When a patient is receiving care in a hospital or clinical setting, the patient may have dozens of doctors, nurses, and various specialists coming in and out. It can be confusing for patients to know what each person is doing and who is in charge. When something goes wrong and causes a medical injury, the specific profession of each healthcare provider can have an impact on their liability.
Is the Person Treating You a Doctor or Physician's Assistant?
Many people believe the person treating them is a doctor when the individual is a more limited healthcare professional, like a Physician's Assistant (PA). PAs can attend a 2 to 3 year PA program and pass a certifying exam to work as a PA. MDs require 4 years of medical school, 3-7 years of postgraduate residency training, pass the US licensing exam, become board-certified, and obtain a state license.
According to the American Academy of Physician's Assistants (AAPA), “PAs are medical providers who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient's principal healthcare provider.”
There are a number of benefits to PAs for patient care. It is generally easier to get an appointment with a PA compared to a doctor. PAs can practice in a number of settings, including hospitals, urgent care, and outpatient offices. While a PA can provide many healthcare services without needing to see a doctor, they are limited in the care they can provide, including:
- PA is not licensed to perform surgery but they can assist with surgery, and
- A PA must be under the supervision of a physician.
Other limitations on PAs are determined on a state-by-state basis. Why does it matter whether the person providing care is a doctor or PA? The scope of practice can determine whether a provider fails to provide the standard of care that can determine negligence in a medical malpractice case.
Is the Person Treating You a PA or Nurse Practitioner?
There may be a similar question of whether you are being treated by a nurse practitioner (NP) or PA. According to the American Nurses Foundation, nurse practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN). APRNs must hold at least a Master's degree in nursing and complete additional training and certification.
Nurse practitioners have more authority than Registered Nurses (RNs). NPs can provide primary or specialty care, including pediatrics, psychiatric, gerontological care. An NPs authority is based on state regulations and varies, with nurse practitioners in many states (including Maryland and DC) having full practice authority and are not required to be supervised by a doctor.
Who is Responsible for a Medical Mistake?
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the cases are often filed against multiple healthcare providers, in order to make sure the right person or persons responsible are included. Over the course of discovery, parties are generally eliminated until the picture becomes clear over who was directly involved in the medical error to make sure they are held responsible for their actions.