Legal Tips
Provided by Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD, ANP

Am I liable if unlicensed staff give bad advice to my patients?

Q: In the practice where I work, medical assistants sometimes give patients advice. Usually, it is good advice, but not always. Am I liable if a patient suffers injury because the patient relied on bad advice from a staff member?

A: An employer is responsible for seeing that staff are trained properly. If you, the NP, is the employer, then you are liable for making sure the staff is trained and working under proper guidelines. If you are an employee of a practice, just like the medical assistants, you still could be liable for their mistakes under certain circumstances. For example, if the practice is operated such that the patient perceives, reasonably, that the medical assistant to be a part of your team, you had better have some system of checking up on the advice the medical assistant is giving patients. You need not oversee every interaction, but you must have some way of monitoring unlicensed staffs' level of expertise. For example, you could give the medical assistants a quarterly, or yearly test--oral or written--on the essential information most likely to be given to patients. Assistants who scored poorly would need to undergo training or self-directed study until their scores reached and acceptable range. Or, you could to periodic role-playing with medical assistants, where you play the part of the patient.

Keep in mind that in a lawsuit, the plaintiff often names every individual associated with a practice in the lawsuit. But most of the individuals will be dismissed after preliminary information is gathered. To be sued is not to be liable. To prove liability, a plaintiff must prove 1) injury, 2) existence of a patient-provider relationship, 3) breach of the standard of care (the standard of reasonably prudent practitioner), and 4) causal relationship between the breach of the standard of care and the injury.

This tip is excerpted from a past issue of The Gold Sheet, a monthly newsletter published by the Law Office of Carolyn Buppert. The Gold Sheet covers the latest news on quality for NPs. For a 12-month subscription, send a check for $30 to The Gold Sheet, Law Office of Carolyn Buppert, 1419 Forest Drive, Suite 205, Annapolis, MD 21403. A companion newsletter, The Green Sheet, offers the latest information on NP compensation and reimbursement.

Last updated: June 6, 2000


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