Overseeing doctor is responsible for mistakes of healthcare staff

In today’s growing healthcare industry, the need for more doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers has increased. In fact, the growth of physician assistants and nurse practitioners has dramatically increased. However, with this growth come other challenges. PAs and NPs can ease the workload of doctors, but what are the consequences when the PA or NP makes medical mistakes?

New York and New Jersey residents at some point may receive medical care from a PA or NP and should be aware that even though a doctor can delegate a task to these midlevel providers, the doctor would be liable if a medical error were to occur. There are several documented cases where a PA or NP has misdiagnosed patients.

In one case, when a child came to a pediatrician‘s office with a fever, sore throat and pain, the attending NP prescribed an antibiotic and asked the parent to call if there was no improvement. A few days later the symptoms worsened, and the NP changed the antibiotic. However, within two days the child was taken to the ER and diagnosed with meningitis. In another case, a woman suffered from vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain, and after nearly six hospital visits over a four-month period, the attending NP attributed the symptoms to benign causes. The patient was later diagnosed and died of endometrial cancer.

In general, healthcare providers have an ongoing duty to provide a reasonable standard of care. When delegating duties to NPs and PAs, the collaborating doctors should be consulted before prescribing medications or making a diagnosis, and they must supervise their PA and NP appropriately. In the absence of appropriate supervision, if a medical error were to occur, the controlling doctor and the NP or PA can be held liable.

Source: Medscape, “Malpractice Risks With NP’s and PA’s in Your Practice,” Mark Crane, Jan. 3, 2013