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Blog & News/Is it Wise to Give out Medical Advice off the Clock?

Is it Wise to Give out Medical Advice off the Clock?

January 21, 2016

Friends and family often ask nurses to give medical advice informally, but is it wise?

It boils down to asking yourself -- just how much do you trust your friend/the person you're advising? Trust is an issue, because a nurse can get into hot water by giving medical advice off the clock to non-patients. And even family members could potentially feel wronged by a nurses' medical advice, ruining your family relationship and possibly damaging your career. In the end, it's a personal decision whether you want to put yourself at risk. Let's look at the responsibilities nurses carry, formally and in "off the clock" situations.

Protection for Nurses: Even on the Job, There is Always Some Risk

When nurses give medical care and patient instruction in the work setting, to their own patients, following the physician's treatment plan, they are unlikely to experience a lawsuit or discipline from an employer, such as a hospital, clinic, doctor's office or other organization. Those employers are generally covered by malpractice insurance and individual physicians (and nurses, especially advanced practice nurses) may also have their own coverage. Nurses can still be sued, even when on the job, along with the employer and the rest of the care team. About 2% of malpractice payouts came from claims against nurses from 2000 to 2009, according to American Nurse Today.

Informal Advice Could Get You Sued

Off the clock, a nurse may be even more at risk if s/he gives medical advice. There is no "disclaimer" you can give along with your advice that will protect you. When you provide medical advice, education, or care in an informal setting, when you're not "on the clock" at an employer, you could potentially be named in a lawsuit. That's why you must really trust the person you give advice to, if you choose to do so at all.

State laws vary greatly and litigation can actually change the laws as time passes. So as a nursing professional, even if your action or advice was justifiable, there is no protection from being sued (at the workplace or not). You may prevail and be found "not liable" if sued, but by then you will have gone through lots of wasted time and unnecessary stress. 

As you know, and likely have in mind daily, nursing is a career that carries a huge amount of responsibility. You must make many independent, in-the-moment decisions. Be sure to protect yourself, especially when asked for advice in a casual setting. "Casual" could go out the window, if the person you advise feels you've caused them harm; with your advice or deeds.

Sharing Nursing/Medical Knowledge Informally -- It's Your Decision, Tread Carefully

If you choose to provide advice or care to non-patients, (which even physicians are cautioned not to do), you'll open yourself up to some inconvenience or uncomfortable situations -- at the very least. When you're asked for free medical advice (as the "neighborhood nurse" or "the nurse in the family"), it may not be the "free" part that annoys you, but the potential risk (and also the time you may be committing. You deserve to enjoy your time off unbothered, as any working person does. That's not the main issue here, but an important one. 

What is your philosophy, as a nurse, on giving medical advice "off the clock"? Do you give medical advice outside work? Have you had any bad experiences when giving out medical advice as a nurse (or good experiences)? Please share with our travel nursing community here at Fastaff Travel Nursing!

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