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Medical malpractice: Doctors and nurse practitioners face surprisingly similar risks

Allegations in medical malpractice claims against nurse practitioners don't differ radically from those made against primary care physicians.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Allegations in medical malpractice claims against nurse practitioners don't differ radically from those made against primary care physicians, according to a new study by The Doctors Company. 

With projections that by 2025 NPs will represent almost one-third of the family practice workforce, hospitals and physician practices would be smart to understand the implications because nurse practitioners can help improve overall productivity by allowing doctors to see more patients, and focus on the patients who need especially complex care.

[Also: Physician groups close gap, prepare for potential shortage by utilizing nurse practitioners, advanced practice clinicians]

The findings show that the liability risks are about the same for each group, implying that both physicians and NPs encounter similar challenges that may lead to adverse events. The study is based on nearly 1,500 claims filed against NPs and family medicine and internal medicine physicians from January 2011 through December 2016.

Among the main findings was that diagnosis-related and medication-related claim allegations were similar for NPs and primary care physicians. The final diagnoses in diagnosis-related allegations were similar in both groups as well.

Many NP claims can be traced to clinical and administrative factors such as failure to adhere to the NP scope of practice, absence of or deviation from written protocols, and inadequate physician supervision, according to the findings. 

Those factors can be fixed if physicians are clear about the nurse practitioner laws and regulations within their state, and support the NP in providing care within the scope of practice, the authors said. There should be agreement on the level of supervision that will be exercised by the physician, including the number and frequency of charts to be reviewed and co-signed. 

Plus, NPs and supervising physicians should agree on specific conditions that, when identified by an NP, warrant assessment by the supervising physician, the authors said. 

And this will become even more important as healthcare providers grapple with the nursing shortage that Moody's predicted on Monday will last for four more years.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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