‘Tell the Full Story’ to Avoid Legal Risks in Critical Care

Fear of malpractice is common among physicians and other providers, but nurses can also face lawsuits for their role in patient care.

“In today’s litigious society, nurses can become involved directly and indirectly in legal issues,” said Sheryl L. Gilson, ICU clinical specialist at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. “Unfortunately, with the nursing shortage, many nurses are working longer hours, have increased patient load and are overstressed and exhausted, and this can lead to medical errors, which can develop into legal entanglement.”

Gilson and Sandy A. Salicco, clinical specialist for surgical services at Tampa Community Hospital in Florida, discussed legal risks and how bedside nurses can protect themselves from malpractice allegations during “Starting the Movement and Spreading the Word: Legal Risks in Critical Care,” on Wednesday and will present again on Thursday 8-9 a.m., in GRB, room 351D.

Negligence, or even the perception of it, could lead to a legal situation in which the nurse is held responsible. “Patients have the right to expect that a certain level of care should be provided,” said Gilson, and if that standard is not met, they may have grounds for a lawsuit.

Gilson encourages nurses to take the time to communicate any concerns to the appropriate person and to document each action and intervention, because charting by exception, in which only unusual or unexpected findings are noted, is a risk. Having minimal documentation could be interpreted by an attorney as negligence; in other words, “not charted, not done,” she said.

“Lack of detail could not only compromise quality and safety for the patient, but any missing information pertinent to their care could then compromise the care,” Gilson added. “Your documentation should tell the full story of the patient’s condition and of your professional assessment and care.”