How Likely are Nurse Practitioners to Get Sued?

NP's, PA's and MD's alike worry about medical malpractice lawsuits.  Despite hard work and good intentions, medical providers make mistakes.  Protocols and technology promise to make patients safer and reduce error but no system is foolproof.  Just how likely are you as a nurse practitioner to face a medical malpractice lawsuit?  How can you reduce your risk?

How Likely are Nurse Practitioners to be Sued?

In 2009, researchers looked back at data from 1991 to 2007 examining the number of medical malpractice claims among various types of medical providers.  The study showed that midlevel providers, NP's and PA's, have decreased liability compared to physicians.  Researchers report "During that period, there was 1 payment for every 2.7 active physicians, 1 for every 32.5 active PA's and 1 for every 65.8 active and inactive advanced practice nurses.  In percentage terms, 37% of physicians, 3.1% of physician assistants and 1.5% of advanced practice nurses would have made a malpractice payment."

This study is great news for NP's.  It indicates that by hiring nurse practitioners and physician assistants, physicians and hospitals do not increase their liability, a genuine concern among employers.

Why Are Nurse Practitioners Less Likely to be Sued than Physicians?

Experts believe that midlevel providers are less likely to be sued than physicians because they spend more time with their patients.  Patients are less likely to file a malpractice claim when they have a relationship with or a positive interaction with their medical provider.  NP's and PA's are also more likely to take the time to answer their patient's questions.  

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of a Malpractice Lawsuit?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are most often sued when they act beyond their defined scope of practice or when they are inadequately supervised by physician.  It is imperative that you as a nurse practitioner know you state laws.  Be familiar with your legal scope of practice and practice only within these boundaries.  Familiarize yourself also with the protocols and regulations within your hospital so you do not overstep these practice guidelines.  

If you have a question about a patient or are uncomfortable treating a patient yourself, ask for help from your supervising physician.  Even if you do not practice in a setting where collaboration is encouraged, I can assure you that neither you nor your employer wants to face a lawsuit because you were to afraid to seek help.  Communication with both your patients and your coworkers is key to avoiding a malpractice claim and delivering safe patient care. 

Do you have any tips for avoiding legal complications as a nurse practitioner? 


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Comments

The article makes a baseless assumption that midlevels have lower rates of malpractice payments because of "better relationships" without even entertains the more likely possibilities:

1. Physicians work in more high risk specialties, (OB/GYN, surgery, anesthesia...etc.). There was no attempt to make an apples to apples comparison of primary care physicians to NPs and PAs

2. Most importantly, the physician is more likely to be the sole defendant in a malpractice case involving a PA or NP. This is an important point to consider since PAs and NPs are always breathlessly lobbying for more authority. At some point, there will be an unavoidable dose of responsibility and many of the same people lobbying for more autonomy will find themselves seeking the familiar refuge of someone else's license.

Eric

this article is very misleading. The writer obviously has never taken an actual stats class, otherwise they would understand the fallacy in this.
NPs see much less ill patients, and tend to work in lower risk specialities. Why include inactive NPs?

Is this a tout to try to give NPs a better name? Really? presenting false information does not help them out at all.

Go back to school and learn maths please.

falsestats

NPs are mid levels, they do not have the education nor the knowledge of MDs and thus NPs are insufficiently capable of being anything other than a mid level. NPs do not know the pathophysiology of disease like MDs do, so why are there so many NPs trying to play doctor? If you want to be a doctor, go to medical school. Don't get angry when you don't have the authority of a doctor. You are not a MD.

Reader

First off, the main reason Midlevels get sued less is Physicians see sicker patients. Another reason: the high risk medical specialties (OBGYN, Neurosurgery, Trauma Surgery) do not have any Midlevels doing the procedures, and those are the most often sued specialties. So really, NPs get sued less because they work in lower risk areas. In addition, you included inactive NPs in the calculation. It's darn hard to get sued for malpractice if you aren't seeing patients. Worthless rhetoric of an article.

Titus

This is a very conflicting situation. There must be laws of course to help the patients and save the rights of the patients. But should that law punish people who serve to save others? My suggestion is that, there should be also laws to save nurses from potentially bad situations.

Jose Kart

Perhaps, the NP's and PA's got sued less because the MD responsible for them got sued and may even have made a malpractice payment.

Anonymous

I can't think of anything more demeaning to an NP then referring to them as a mid level.

Cardionp

this article is misleading. how can you include active AND also inactive NP's against active PA's and active MD's? that's like comparing accident rates between people who are actively driving a truck who had a CDL and those who have a CDL and do nothing with it. maybe I am wrong but I thought Advance Practice Nurses such as midwives and Nurse Anethetists were lumped into NP since those are all higher education with direct patient care. Maybe we should exclude Anaesthesiologists from the MD numbers then...

huh?