Protecting Yourself while Protecting Your Patients

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protecting patientsA few weeks ago, there was a story all over the news and social media, featuring a video of a nurse being taken into custody after refusing to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient. In the video, a police officer was demanding that he be allowed to draw blood from the patient who was under her care, though he had no warrant to override direct consent from the patient, which he was unable to give. The officer became irate at her refusal, though she explained that it was her job to protect the rights of her patient, and placed her in handcuffs.

In the end, the nurse came out as the hero, and there was an investigation of the officer who was wrongfully asking for the blood sample and wrongfully placed her into custody. It was a dramatic scenario and quite frightening to any medical professional who cares about their patients, even though the final outcome was positive.

At some hospitals, this has caused serious discussion about the place of nurses and other care providers in being the point of contact with the police. Changes are being made at some facilities to remove those directly responsible for patient care from the equation so they are no longer required to interact with the police. If your facility is not one of these, it is important to know how to protect yourself and your patients in similar scenarios.

Know the Policies of Your Facility

Every hospital, doctor’s office, and other medical facility has a set of policies and regulations that govern the way that patient property and information is handled. In most cases, unless there is a warrant or there is probable cause by the police, access to patient information such as blood toxicity or alcohol content is strictly protected. Know this policy well and be prepared to enforce it whenever necessary.

Understand Patients’ Rights and Your Own

Make yourself familiar with the rights of your patients and your rights as a medical professional. Many of your interactions are protected by law, and you are not required to cooperate with police who are forcing you to go outside of these rights.

Witnesses and Documentation Are Crucial

When you are in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable or where you are concerned that your authority to advocate for your patient is being undermined, be sure to find a witness that can come to your aid. Record the interaction whenever possible or move to a place that you know is being monitored by CCTV. Having that documentation of the request or dispute will help you to prove that you were following policy if there is any question at a later date.

Because the nurse in this situation was knowledgeable about the rights of her patients and the hospital’s policies on police interaction, she took the correct steps to advocate on behalf of her unconscious patient. While changes are being made in some areas to place a middleman between medical professionals and law enforcement, advocating for your patients is one of the most important parts of nursing. As you carry out this duty, be sure that you protect yourself by taking steps to ensure that your livelihood is protected, as well.

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