NCLEX-RN Reviewer | Legal Issues Affecting Patients

Legal issues affecting patients are those that occur when a wrong has been committed against a patient or a patient’s property.

Defamation of Character
• Defamation of character occurs when information about an individual is detrimental to his/her reputation.
• The communication, which is considered to be malicious and false, may be spoken (slander) or written (libel) and may be about patients or other health care providers.

• The nurse must
—document only objective information in the medical record,
—use professional terms,
—avoid discussing patients and other health care providers in public places where there is the possibility of being overheard, and
—use only acceptable avenues to confidentially report behavior of patients or other health care providers.

Privileged Communication
• Privileged communication is the information shared by an individual with certain professionals and that does not need to be revealed in a court of law.
• The nurse needs to know what the state she/he is practicing in says about privileged communications.

Emergency Care
• Certain actions provided by a health care professional may be legal in emergency situations and not legal in nonemergency situations.

• During a true emergency, consent is implied as the court considers that a reasonable person in a life-threatening situation would give permission for treatment.
• “Good Samaritan Acts” protect the nurse against negligence when she/he provides voluntary assistance to an individual in an emergency situation.
• Within a health care agency, the emergency policies and procedures of the institution govern what the nurse can do, and so a nurse must know these. The courts have held that a nurse can do things immediately necessary, even if the activity is normally considered a medical function, provided she/he has the expertise to carry out the act. The nurse is protected from a charge of practicing outside the scope of practice if the protocols established by the institution’s medical staff are followed.

Refusing Treatment
• This issue arises out of the belief in and respect for the autonomy of the patient.
• The two forms of refusing treatment are when the patient discharges himself/herself from the hospital against medical advice or when he/she refuses certain treatment when in the hospital.
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