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I am an RN and work as a phone triage nurse. Is there any legal issue with non-nurses in our office identifying themselves as nurses to callers?

Monday August 5, 2013
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

I am an RN and work as a phone triage nurse. Our office mostly employs certified medical assistants, a few LPNs and RNs. Everyone who answers the phone identifies themselves as a nurse. Is there any legal issue with non-nurses identifying themselves as nurses?

LaToya



Nancy Brent replies:

Dear LaToya,

State nurse practice acts often regulate who can utilize titles such as "nurse," "RN," and "LPN" and include the restriction that only those licensed under the act can use the titles. Practice acts also contain a restriction that anyone who holds themselves out as practicing nursing or attempts to practice nursing without being licensed under the act, may be assessed a fine for doing so in addition to being subject to violations of other state laws, such as misrepresentation.

Depending on what your state nurse practice act says, those individuals who use the title of nurse could be subjecting themselves to legal liability. It might be best for you to bring this practice to the attention of the nurse who supervises nurses in your office or, if there is no one in this position, to the facility owner.

By bringing this practice to that person's attention, you have notified those in charge of a practice that is not acceptable. Should you find that your concerns are not taken seriously, you may want to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can specifically advise you about how and where to report your concerns.

Another issue with this practice, and one that the facility administrators should seriously consider is, a client believing he or she is talking to a nurse and relying on the information provided. For example, if the non-nurse says to a caller, "This is not an emergency, come in when you can” or when the staff member doesn't know which questions to ask the patient in order to triage effectively. If an injury or a death were to occur as a direct result of that erroneous advice or missed symptoms, the facility and that staff member could face a lawsuit for injury to or death of the patient.

Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.