Office RNs and e-prescription: Are there legal pitfalls?

An RN who works in a physician’s office raised a concern about whether she had the authority to send an e-prescription to a pharmacy when the physician gave a verbal order for non-opioid prescriptions.

E-prescriptions have been the subject of several of my recent blogs, including “Could a nurse be liable for an incorrect prescription being given to a patient?” and “Can RNs/CMAs without prescriptive authority process refills?”

E-prescriptions are nothing new in today’s healthcare arena. But when not handled properly, they can potentially pose legal risks to an RN in an office setting.

What legal risk could befall you?

The biggest legal problem in this situation is the verbal order from the physician. As you know, in the hospital setting, verbal orders are regulated by the institution’s policies.

For example, a verbal order would most likely be prohibited for a Do Not Resuscitate Order. Rather, an institution’s policy would require a written order by a physician and a written DNR form completed and made a part of the patient’s medical record, either as narrative originals or as part of an Electronic Medical Record.

Such a policy ensures the order was, in fact, directed by the physician, was documented properly and the required form filled out.

In an office setting, however, none of these protections are usually afforded you. As a result, if you misunderstood the verbal order in some way (e.g., medication ordered, dosage ordered) and the patient is injured as a result of your misunderstanding, legal liability might ensue in the form of a professional negligence suit.

Defending yourself against a misunderstanding allegation is difficult in this situation. The physician may take the position that he or she did not order what you e-prescribed to the pharmacy. Or, if he or she did, your e-prescription was in error. Clicking on the wrong medication to be filled on the patient’s medication list or typing in the wrong dosage would be the basis of your error, as examples.

You can help reduce your liability concerning verbal orders in several ways. One is to ask that a policy be developed in the office for nurses concerning verbal orders. For example, the policy could indicate that no verbal orders can be given for e-prescriptions by nursing staff unless there also is a written order in the patient’s medical record.

In addition to a policy you must follow, the development of standing orders by the physician for those medications he or she prescribes can reduce your potential liability. The physician can write the order in the patient’s medical record pursuant to the adopted policy, and then you consult with the standing order(s) for that medication and for that patient.

If a policy or standing orders are not developed, another way to reduce your liability is to document clearly in the patient’s record the verbal order as you would any verbal order in a hospital setting. That is, you would document what the verbal order was, who gave it, the time and date, and when you e-mailed the prescription to the pharmacy.

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