Legal background

The hospital attempted to absolve itself of responsibility for Ms. M by claiming that since the patient’s family notified the physician, it was the physician’s, and no longer Ms. M’s, responsibility to attend to the situation. However, the plaintiff’s expert made a convincing argument that the standard of care required Ms. M to chart the complaint, assess whether the patient had any of the six characteristic symptoms of ischemia, and alert the physician to the complaint of a “hot and numb” limb. The court refused to dismiss the case against the hospital as the employer of Ms. M. The case eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Protecting yourself

Ms. M made several mistakes, but perhaps her biggest one was not acting as an advocate for her patient. Ms. M failed to chart the patient’s complaint twice. The first time, she even told the family that she was going to make a note of it but then did not do that.

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The second time, when the patient was clearly showing signs of ischemia, not only did Ms. M not chart the issue, but she failed to immediately notify Dr. S (or another physician) and thus, deprived the patient of the chance to be diagnosed and treated in time. This was an emergent condition, yet Ms. M did not treat it as an emergency.

As a clinician, you are your patient’s advocate. It may often be the case that you see a patient more frequently than the physician does, and the patient may be more comfortable speaking with you. It is your duty to act on behalf of that patient, which means charting complaints, assessing potentially dangerous conditions, and making sure that your patients are getting the medical attention they need.

Ann W. Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.