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How much responsibility do nurses bear for your health?

When you check into an Oregon hospital, you expect competency, skill and compassion from your doctors, nurses and all other hospital personnel. Unfortunately, some of these people may not meet your expectations. Nursing errors or neglect, in particular, may impact you more negatively than those of other health care professionals because your nurses are the people who have the most contact with you and vice versa. Therefore, if they make a mistake, it could endanger your life.

Virtually every aspect of your hospital care depends on your nurses’ education, training, skill, competence and dedication, including the following:

  • Administering your medications
  • Monitoring your progress
  • Serving as your first responders in a medical emergency
  • Assisting you so you do not fall
  • Listening to your fears, concerns and complaints
  • Educating you and your family about your post-hospital care and any needed lifestyle changes

Medication errors

While your doctor(s) must prescribe your medications, your nurses bear responsibility for giving you your meds as, when and in the amounts prescribed. Consequently, your life literally rests in their hands. Common nursing medication errors include the following:

  • Misreading the doctor’s prescription
  • Failing to understand the doctor’s orders
  • Giving you the wrong dosage
  • Mixing up your meds
  • Mixing you up with another patient

Communication errors

Your nurses bear responsibility for clearly communicating to your doctors and other hospital personnel how both you and your case are progressing. Since they are on the front lines, so to speak, they have the best opportunity to observe you, monitor your progress, note any red flags regarding your physical or emotional condition, and know when you likely need assistance from physical or occupational therapists, dietitians, social service providers, or a host of other health care professionals. Failing to clearly communicate your needs to the appropriate people not only can hinder your progress, it may even cause you to have a setback. Unfortunately, however, most nurses usually have heavy patient loads and do not always remember to relay critical information to the next shift or to your doctors.

Teaching errors

In all likelihood, one of your nurses will be the person who counsels and advises you and your family regarding your post-hospital course of action. (S)he should do this in laymen’s language that all of you can easily understand and therefore follow. (S)he likewise should fully answer any questions any of you may have, particularly those relating to precisely which medications you should take in what dosages at what times.

For instance “twice a day” is not particularly helpful information. (S)he should tell you if this means once in the morning as soon as possible after you get up and once in the evening right before you go to bed, or whatever schedule your doctor recommends. (S)he also should tell you whether or not you should eat something right before or right after you take each type of medication. Obviously (s)he should make sure you understand the possible side effects of each drug and how each one could negatively interact with consumer products such as alcohol, tobacco, pain relievers, vitamins, etc.

All in all, your nurses constitute a major component of your health care team. Should any of them fail in their duties to you, you may have a personal injury claim.