Understanding Medical Assistant Practice Liability Issues

Carolyn Buppert


Dermatology Nursing. 2008;20(4):327-329. 

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The issues discussed in this column are not meant to be considered legal advice. For personal advice, readers are urged to contact a qualified health care attorney.

A nurse practitioner wrote: "I'm worried about the way the medical assistant in my office gives out telephone advice. I heard him tell a patient not to worry about the symptom the patient was calling about. It seems to me that this would be a form of diagnosing, which is the practice of medicine. Boards of nursing come down hard on registered nurses who exceed their scope of practice, but it seems that medical assistants do it all the time. Am I at risk for getting sued if I work with a medical assistant who goes out on a limb and a patient is harmed?"

There are two legal issues here. Liability for malpractice and exceeding scope of practice. If a medical assistant negligently or incompetently advises a patient and the patient suffers an injury because he or she relied on the advice, the medical assistant and his employer probably will be sued. It is unlikely that a nurse or nurse practitioner working at the practice would be sued, but if a nurse or nurse practitioner had supervisory responsibilities, then it is possible that the nurse would be named. It is the medical assistant's employer/supervisor's responsibility to monitor the medical assistant and make sure he or she is acting within the standard of care.


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