Nursing malpractice: How to avoid it?

Can you imagine a hospital without nurses? No, right? That is because nursing is an integral part of the healthcare delivery system. The field of nursing has undergone a great deal of change over the years. It is a dynamic field, and nursing is becoming more sophisticated daily as nurses assume more responsibility inpatient care. However, the greater involvement of nurses in healthcare also increases the possibility of nursing malpractice actions.

What is nursing malpractice?

When it comes to liability, nurses mostly face two types of claims- negligence and malpractice. Negligence, in legal terms, can be defined as “the failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”

Nursing malpractice occurs when a nurse does not or fails to perform their medical duties competently, which causes harm to the patient. So, malpractice can be considered a specialized form of negligence applicable to “professionals” who owe a duty to another.

In recent years, nursing malpractice claims have been on the rise. Most nursing malpractice claims fall under the following categories:

· Failure to evaluate and monitor

· Failure to follow standards of care

· Failure to communicate

· Failure to use equipment responsibly

· Failure to document

· Failure to follow physician’s orders or act as a patient advocate.

How can nurses reduce the risk of malpractice?

Medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. Nearly 15,000 to 19,000 lawsuits are filed each year in the U.S. claiming negligence or medical malpractice. Given the occupational demands and possibility of errors in care methods, nurses often become the subject of legal malpractice suits.

Do you know how to reduce malpractice risks?

The following tips will help you understand how to prevent malpractice in nursing and avoid professional liability.

1. Be present to each patient.

Anger at healthcare providers, including nurses, is one of the main elements of many malpractice suits. Patients or their families may feel ignored or dehumanized. When waiting rooms in hospitals and private practice clinics are packed, it may not be possible for nurses or any other healthcare provider to provide individual attention to each patient. In such situations, nurses try to expedite service. Sometimes, patients or their families may feel that they are not getting the attention that they deserve. While expediting services, mistakes or omissions may also happen. This would otherwise not have occurred in normal circumstances, leaving nurses open to malpractice claims.

As part of the clinical workflow, nurses also need to determine how many patients can be scheduled and how they can be attended to. However, nurses are under the constant pressure of scheduling as many patients as possible. When healthcare professionals need to listen to so many patients, chances are they could miss asking vital questions or miss a symptom. This could lead to a severe or fatal medical error.

To avoid the risk of malpractice, you should be present to each patient. You can earn their trust and respect by fostering a positive and long-term professional relationship with your patients.

2. Documentation is key

Documentation is essential in a healthcare setup, not just from a patient care standpoint but also from a legal perspective. Simple documentation is not enough. Your documentation should have legal credibility. Vital documentation can be your best defence if you are ever named in a malpractice lawsuit.

To have legal credibility, your documentation should be:

–       Contemporaneous

Document everything about the care you provide to a patient, including data, time, and other important information. For instance, if you gave medication to a patient but did not document it, another nurse could assume it was not given to the patient. The nurse could give another dose, causing a potential overdose situation. If you forget to document allergies, the patient may end up having an adverse reaction, leaving you open to a malpractice suit.

–       Accurate

It would be best if you documented precisely what you did, taking care not to omit anything. For instance, if you give a medication to a patient, you should note down the exact dosage on the chart. Suppose you write down a lesser amount; another nurse could notice the difference and administer an additional amount of medicine to the patient. Sometimes, excess medication could result in an overdose or toxicity.

–       Truthful

It would be best if you documented only what you did or observed, nothing more and nothing less. Let’s say you write a treatment that was never given to the patient. The patient would still be suffering because he never received the treatment that could have provided relief. It also exposes you to fraud charges because the hospital will charge the patient for treatment he never received.

–       Appropriate

It would be best if you documented only what you would be comfortable showing in public. You may, at times, encounter patients who are lying or those who are lazy. However, it would be best if you never put your remarks on a medical chart. Imagine the situation where there is a lawsuit, and the lawyer presents the chart in the courtroom. The chart has statements such as “lazy” or “sneaky”. How will you explain those remarks to everyone present in the courtroom?

Even if it is an emergency, you have to take time to document everything that you do. This is critical for legal as well as clinical reasons.

3. Don’t be late in referring a patient. 

In emergency rooms, a patient with uncomfortable or mild symptoms can easily be misdiagnosed. If you delay consulting a doctor or seeking a referral to a specialist, you can leave yourself open to a malpractice suit. When a patient is presenting mild symptoms, it can be easy to misunderstand the gravity of the situation. Mild symptoms can often quickly escalate to life-threatening circumstances.

4. Engage in additional continuing education training.

In each U.S. state, the college of nurses provides a minimum number of “continuing education training” hours required by every nurse every year. The field of medicine is evolving rapidly. The continuing education training reflects the minimum amount of learning every nurse should have to remain current with medical procedures and other changes in their profession.

As a nurse, you should aim to seek more than just the essential annual requirement. It will not only enhance your skills but also help against a liability claim. A well-trained will be much better at defending her expertise in a malpractice suit.

5. Never share patient details on social media

Social media has taken the world by storm. Almost everyone has an account on at least one social media platform, and healthcare professionals are different. We see numerous YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram accounts of doctors and nurses with massive followers. Most of them share helpful tips that can help people take care of their health.

Having social media accounts is not a bad thing for a nurse. You can share your personal life or even a few things about your professional life. However, you must never share confidential information such as patient names or details on social media. Patient health information in the U.S. is protected under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). Any violation could expose you to serious malpractice claims.

6. Always follow policies and procedures.

The three most powerful tools to protect yourself against a malpractice lawsuit are compliance with policies and procedures, documentation, and malpractice insurance. The primary goal of policies and procedures is to protect you from the damages caused by a malpractice lawsuit.

Compliance with policies and procedures ensures a safe environment for both patients and staff. It also ensures that you meet government and professional requirements. When a malpractice lawsuit does occur, a strong compliance record can help mitigate liability.


All humans are prone to errors, nurses too. However, with thorough documentation and substantial compliance with policies and procedures, you can defend yourself effectively against a nursing malpractice lawsuit. Following the above tips can help you reduce the risk of malpractice happening in the first place.