Should Mistakes by Nurses Be Crimes?


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs

Healthcare systems typically aspire to a non-punitive atmosphere to manage any mistakes the nursing staff might make. Mistakes are documented and graded on the basis of harm or potential harm to the patient. Management usually feels that this approach encourages reporting of mistakes, which then spawns new methods of error prevention.

On the legal side, however, there is a movement to criminalize mistakes made by nurses. Healthcare systems feel this trend will result in an individual believing it’s more advantageous to protect self-interests, such as a nursing license and a job, than to report errors.

Criminalization of nursing practice errors could result in nurses being sued for malpractice. In order to classify a mistake as a crime, however, intent must be proven. Additionally, crimes aren’t classified as errors against an individual, but rather as acts that affect society.

Healthcare organizations find that most errors result from ineffective system practices — and the openness that current systems of error reporting without legal recriminations offer — helps shape a safer practice environment. In other words, finding out why the error occurred lessens the likelihood of that same mistake being made twice. The end result is a safer environment for both the patient and nursing staff.

On the other hand, no reporting leads to no correction, and a vicious circle is born. If nurses fear they’ll face legal charges for mistakes, they’ll be much less compelled to report them. If management doesn’t know a mistake occurred, there will be no new systems developed to avoid errors. That mindset doesn’t encourage nurses’ adherence to the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics, which states that nurses must advocate for their patients by correcting mistakes. Even the Joint Commission holds that a system which emphasizes solutions to patient safety is more effective than operating within a culture of blame.

So what can nurses do to advocate for themselves and a continued culture of identifying and correcting mistakes without fear of criminal prosecution? Join the ANA. With only 180,000 members nationwide, the member body is the united voice of nursing, and they need help.

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