For many years now, nurse practitioners have been fighting to change laws so they can run practices and write prescriptions without assistance from doctors. Currently, 21 states allow nurses full prescribing privileges. As doctor shortages intensify across the country, more states are considering law changes. The medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have represented many clients injured and killed by negligent nurses.
Nursing malpractice is quite similar to doctor malpractice: it occurs when a nurse performs his or her duties in a negligent manner, and that negligence directly harms the patient. This can include an array of failures, including administering the wrong drug or wrong dose, failing to notify doctors in an emergency, or injuring a patient with medical equipment.
There are varying levels of nursing degrees; in fact, there are dozens of nurse specialties all requiring different skills, degrees, training and experience. Nursing types range from geriatric to holistic to anesthetists and everywhere in between.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are quickly becoming the healthcare provider of choice for millions of Americans. NPs have masters or doctoral degrees, advanced clinical training, and specialized knowledge in primary care, acute care, and long-term care. Below is an overview of NP facts and contributions from the American Association or Nurse Practitioners (click on image to enlarge).
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Although NPs are qualified to prescribe medication and diagnose patients without a doctor’s help, in many states they are unable to prescribe controlled substances. Controlled substances are divided into five schedules under federal law. These schedules are based on the drugs’ potential for abuse, likelihood of causing dependence, and whether or not they are currently accepted medical treatments.
Schedule I controlled substances, for example, include Ecstasy, heroin and LSD, which have high abuse potential and are not accepted for medical use in the U.S. Schedule II substances include methadone, oxycodone, and morphine. Schedule III substances include Tylenol with Codeine and steroids like Depo-Testosterone. Schedule IV substances include Xanax and Valium, and schedule V substances have the lowest potential for abuse, such as Robitussin.
Florida is the only state that does not allow NPs to prescribe controlled substances, even with collaborative agreements with doctors. Several states, including Minnesota and Nebraska, changed their laws only within the last few years to allow NPs full practice and prescriptive authority.
States in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions have the most restrictive NP practice laws, and state and national medical societies continue to oppose NP authority expansion. They believe NPs can help serve areas with doctor-shortages, but only when part of a coordinated team led by doctors.
Evidence of the effects of wider NP authority is conflicting. Two recent studies showed that increased use of NPs led to increased diagnostic imaging services and referrals to specialists. Other studies show that states that recently passed wider laws for NPs showed increases in quality of care. NPs can usually spend more time with patients than doctors can, and are better able to service patients in rural areas, where doctor shortages are most prevalent and most dangerous.
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Unfortunately, with the rise in NP authority also comes an increase in malpractice claims against nurses. A report published by the Nurses Service Organization examined nurse claims between 2010 and 2014. More than $90 million was paid in malpractice claims against registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and NPs during that time.
Nurses who were most at risk of malpractice claims trained outside the U.S. and had more years of experience. The largest malpractice payouts, however, were against nurses with less than five years’ experience. In 2015, the average claims cost was nearly $165,000.
If you or someone you love was seriously harmed by nurse negligence, contact our firm for a free case review. We represent patients nationwide.