August 22nd, 2011 by Hasham
Nursing Legal Issues
Q: As a nurse, what is the single, most important legal issue I must be aware of as I take care of my patients?
A: Today’s nurse must manage complex situations both in inpatient and outpatient settings. Add to this the phenomenal advances taking place in technology and the delivery of health care and the nurse takes on an extra, demanding burden. Plus, society expects nurses to be competent, compassionate and available. Although nursing professionals spend years learning their profession and are well trained, they are not prepared for the legal issues they face. Chief among these is being sued for nursing malpractice.
Generally speaking, malpractice may be divided into two major categories:
Negligence, when a nurse fails to exercise that degree of nursing care which would be expected from another nurse in a similar clinical situation, and Informed Consent, when a nurse fails to adequately inform a patient about the pertinent risks and benefits of a nursing procedure or treatment prior to its performance.In law, negligence has a special meaning and a much more narrow definition then the general one we often think of, such as neglecting to do a task, job, or procedure correctly.Informed consent litigation, which occurs less frequently than being sued for negligence, presents special issues of its own, including vagueness of your specific role and the resulting consequence of taking on more than you thought.
Nursing homes are charged with the care of elderly persons who are, at least in part, unable to care for themselves. Because the people in charge of these facilities are in a special relationship of trust with those under their care, many legal issues can arise if this duty is breached.One of the most severe and disturbing ways (though certainly not the only, or even the most common) ways in which this duty can be breached is through elder abuse. This is seen as a particularly egregious breach of the special duty of care, because, rather than simply not doing what one is supposed to do in the course of caring for an elderly person, it involves affirmative acts directed at an elderly person specifically designed to harm them.
Elder abuseThe reasons for this abuse can vary – disgruntled nursing home employees may engage in elder abuse out of resentment, it may be a form of intimidation (perhaps for financial gain), or, maybe, some people simply need the sense of power that it gives them. In addition, elder abuse can take many forms – from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, to severe neglect. It can also take the form of financial fraud and/or extortion.According to LegalMatch case statistics from the last 12 months, a wide variety of legal issues arise in nursing homes. While elder abuse is one of them that came up with some frequency, there are others, such as family members fighting to secure visitation rights, protecting elders’ privacy rights, and setting up personal bank accounts for seniors under the care of nursing homes.
Based on this information, it is clear that nursing homes and their residents can become involved in legal issues that other industries don’t face. Accordingly, if you are in charge of a nursing home, or are a relative of a family member who needs to go into a nursing home or other care facility, it is probably a good idea to contact an experienced lawyer who specializes in elder law.All nurses should be familiar with nursing law and ethics and understand how nursing legal issues can affect them. Know your basic nursing laws and avoid lawsuits and liability:Nurses are at the forefront for care given to patients, and may deal with life and death situations daily. During their nursing education, nurses must be cautioned that there are a host of legal and ethical issues that will affect how the job is carried out.
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