Medical Malpractice News

What the Growing Role of Nurses Means for Risk Management

Tags: , | Comments: 0 | December 4th, 2013

Risk management for nurses - how to refresh your game to keep ahead.As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one effect of the increasing number of patients in the health care system is a greater reliance on nurse practitioners.  With an aging population of baby-boomers and now the addition of millions to the ranks of the insured as a result of the ACA, combined with a static or declining (depending on specialty) number of new doctors entering the field, it’s a given that R.N.s will see an increased work load—likely in responsibilities, as well as time.  And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I’ve noted before that relying more on R.N.s and other non-physician health care professionals, while having its limits, can be part of a good overall strategy for facing today’s health care challenges.

However, it is important that as we think about the changing, and possibly expanding, role of nurses that we also think about risk and what it will take to mitigate it.  Generally when people think of medical malpractice insurance they think of doctors.  But, the truth is that nurses are subject to liability just like doctors.  They carry malpractice insurance, and if they are going to be taking on expanded duties or even just staying busier than ever, then they will want to make sure that they are managing their risks well.

Of course part of this, regardless of whether you are a nurse, doctor, or anyone else is just making sure that you have the right insurance for what you do.  A good broker can work with a nurse to tailor coverage to specific needs.  Even a nurse that has a non-traditional role, or is frequently engaged in higher than average risk practices should be able to get the coverage needed at a reasonable price with the help of an experienced insurance professional.

But in addition to having the right policy in place for claims that do arise, there is also the question of what nurses can do to prevent claims from arising in the first place.  It seems to me that if we are going to see nurses relied upon in an expanding capacity that we also have to think through opportunities for continued education and ongoing training.  Of course this is nothing new, but perhaps the emphasis will need to be greater moving forward.

There are at least three obvious benefits for nurses to pursuing continued education and training in today’s environment:

  1. Specific training can open up new areas of practice to a nurse.  Training can broaden a nurse’s skill set and give him/her a broader palate of abilities, ultimately increasing value to an employer, and offering opportunities for career growth.
  2. Even training that is largely remedial or review offers nurses a chance to build their confidence, be reminded of best practices, and bone up on new research and technology.  Review is a great way to prevent falling in to bad habits or forgetting those things that don’t come up all the time.
  3. Finally, pro-active pursuit of education is likely to be seen by insurers as a risk mitigating activity, and may in some cases be rewarded with reduced premiums.  It certainly can’t hurt when an insurer is considering your application.

We could probably come up with a much longer list, but those three things alone make quite a case not only for nurses to pursue continued training and education, but for the industry as a whole to begin thinking through how we can give nurses and other health care professionals more opportunities to strengthen their skills in practical ways.  Whether it’s web based interactive training, bringing in an expert for a seminar or lab demonstration, or employer reimbursement for training, it seems as though creating new opportunities for ongoing education and training and incentivizing existing ones is something that will need to be stressed as the patient roles swell and nurses take on greater responsibilities.

For further reading, including some specifics about the primary malpractice concerns for nurses see this article from Business Insurance.