What is the legal responsibilities of the supervising physician, if there is one?
In a recent legal development, a Philadelphia jury awarded more than $1.4 million to the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit against a nurse practitioner. The case highlights the evolving landscape of legal responsibility for nurse practitioners and their supervising physicians, particularly in the diagnosis and treatment of severe medical conditions like hyperthyroidism.
HCN Medical Memo
This case serves as a cautionary tale about the legal and ethical responsibilities involved in supervising nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers. It underscores the importance of vigilant diagnosis and treatment, especially for severe conditions like hyperthyroidism. The evolving legal landscape also suggests that physicians may increasingly find themselves less liable in malpractice cases against NPs, depending on state laws. However, the AMA’s recommendation for physician-led healthcare teams remains a cornerstone for best practices in patient care.
- A unanimous jury verdict awarded just over $1.4 million to the plaintiff, who filed a medical malpractice case against nurse practitioner Sagine Bien-Aime, CRNP, for allegedly failing to properly treat severe hyperthyroidism, leading to a patient’s death.
- The patient, Micheal Woodall, had visited Excel Medical Center in Philadelphia for an asthma check-up in 2015, where a swollen neck area was noticed. Despite multiple follow-ups and worsening blood work, Woodall was not adequately informed or treated.
- The defense argued that Woodall was negligent in causing his own death, but the jury found no fault on his part.
- Physicians often find themselves named in malpractice suits against nurse practitioners they supervise, highlighting the complex issue of legal responsibility in healthcare settings.
“Physicians should bear ultimate responsibility for coordinating and managing patient care, with appropriate input from physician assistants…The American Medical Association encourages physician-led healthcare teams that utilize the unique knowledge and valuable contributions of all clinicians to enhance patient outcomes. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are valuable members of this team, and patients win when each member of their healthcare team plays the role they are educated and trained to play.”
– American Medical Association Statement
- Legal responsibility for nurse practitioners varies by state. For example, 27 states grant NPs full practice authority, while others require direct physician supervision.
- Between 2011 and 2016, 82% of all malpractice claims against NPs also mentioned the supervising physician. However, the average liability for NPs in lawsuits rose 10.5% between 2017 and 2022.
- The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends that physicians bear ultimate responsibility for patient care, emphasizing the importance of physician-led healthcare teams.
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