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  1. Section Editor(s): Brooke, Penny Simpson APRN, MS, JD

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I work in a small ICU in a rural area. Last week-for the first time in about a year-we had a patient with a pulmonary artery catheter. The only nurse with recent experience with this device was out that day, and we had to scramble to find the information we needed to care for the patient properly. It all worked out, but what if we'd had a problem? Would we be liable for not knowing how to handle technology that we rarely encounter, or would the hospital share liability for not educating us properly? Needless to say, we're now requesting that education. -R. E., S.D.


Both the nurses and the hospital would be held responsible if a patient were harmed by an improperly performed procedure or improper use of equipment. Accordingly, both must anticipate possible care needs of patients they'll be expected to help.

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Hospitals must monitor the competency of their staff and must provide continuing education for all equipment their staff is, or may be, expected to use. Nurses are legally bound to provide safe care to patients and should practice skills throughout the year so that they're prepared to provide safe care using any available technology. As you learned the hard way, having only one nurse who knows how to safely care for a patient with any type of equipment is a dangerous setup.