Similar to physicians, as healthcare providers, nurse practitioners face the risk of medical malpractice. A missed diagnosis, for example, can have serious consequences for a patient leaving the NP legally liable. There are few studies out there specifically looking at malpractice as it relates to nurse practitioners. The data that does exist, however, is interesting and can give you important insight into your practice. Nurse practitioners working in certain specialties, for example, are more likely to face malpractice lawsuits than others.
When it comes to physicians, liability varies widely by specialty. Most studies indicate that surgeons face the greatest liability risk. Over 19 percent of neurosurgeons, for example, faced a malpractice claim in a given year according to one study. This is compared to just 7.1 percent of physicians overall. Specialists such as gastroenterologists, gynecologists, urologists, and pulmonologists follow behind surgeons, also practicing with a moderately high liability risk. Pediatricians and psychiatrists are the least likely to be sued with just 2.6 percent of psychiatrists facing a medical malpractice claim in a given year.
Looking at liability risk for nurse practitioners can be misleading. NPs in most states and settings practice with some form of physician oversight. As a result, nurse practitioners are less likely to be named in a lawsuit. Given that nurse practitioners in most settings have a more limited scope of practice than physicians, and do not perform surgeries, their specialty breakdown when it comes to malpractice risk looks much different than that of physicians.
The following table depicts malpractice claims against nurse practitioners by practice setting as released by the Nurses Service Organization.
NP specialties encompass much broader areas of medicine than those of physicians. So, it can be difficult to determine your liability risk given your exact specialty and setting. Regardless of your professional liability risk, nurse practitioners must practice with an awareness that mistakes do happen in medicine. Getting protocols in place to mitigate errors is a must, regardless of specialty.