As a nurse, there will probably be at least one point during your career when you observe some type of incident that you believe puts a patient at risk. Hospital never events and wrong operations are examples of errors that should never take place at any medical facility. These types of situations stem from various acts of medical negligence, and can have an extremely negative impact on a patient, including loss of life. The question is, should you, as a nurse, blow the whistle on negligent medical treatment or should you remain silent?
Negligence, intentional wrongdoing or any other situation that has had a direct effect on patient safety must be brought to the attention of hospital management. If you observe a serious patient safety issue, illegal activities or issues continue to arise despite previous reports, you may need to make a complaint to an outside agency. If you are uncertain, report the problem you have observed to your supervisor prior to going to an outside agency to blow the whistle unless your prior efforts to report medical negligence have been ignored repeatedly.
Deciding to Report or Not Report
Each state has its own rules and regulations about how a nurse should file a report on hospital medical errors or negligence. The first step you need to take before making the decision to become a whistleblower is educate yourself on Indiana’s Hospital Medical Error Reporting Rule. Also discuss your situation with a representative from the Indiana State Nurses Association.
The following actions will not only protect you, but will increase the chances of you successfully resolving the issues you have observed:
- Consider reporting the issue in a constructive way rather than as a complaint. Offer to help resolve the issue or come up with a solution that will benefit both the patients and the hospital.
- It is vital that you consider how the hospital or individual you are reporting to will respond to your report. If your efforts are met with opposition, you could find yourself facing disciplinary actions or becoming a scapegoat.
- Determine the seriousness of the situation at hand. Is a patient at imminent risk, so much so that it would warrant you taking immediate action to obtain a solution? Can the situation be resolved in a timely fashion in a less contentious manner?
- Evaluate the situation and determine whether there is an underlying reason for any poor quality care or treatment, or negligent medical conduct. Is it a lack of financial resources that led to the problem? Is it a lack of proper training? Identify the weaknesses in the system so that any report outlines all the areas in the medical facility that have allowed the problems you observed to take place. The more data and facts you present in your report as well as solutions for the problems, the better.
- Assess your supervisors. Determine which is most likely to respond positively to your report and assist you in taking the issue up the chain of command if the situation warrants.
Assessing Your Own Personal Risk
All medical professionals, including nurses, have the duty to report those who are not providing the accepted standard of care if patients are in danger. When a patient’s health and safety have been compromised due to medical negligence, it is imperative that you report the situation immediately.
Hospitals and medical centers do not usually take kindly to nurses who question their commitment to patient safety. Sadly, many responsible nurses who have reported cases of medical negligence have faced termination for making the report. The closing of the ranks can make you feel like an outsider.
However, you should be aware that whistleblowers are protected under federal law. If you are terminated for filing a report, legal action can be taken.