What is a Legal Nurse Consultant?
Legal Nurse Consultants are registered nurses with training and experience in analyzing medical records and standards of care. Legal nurse consultants advise attorneys on medical malpractice, nursing home neglect and abuse, personal injury, product liability and mass torts. An experience legal nurse consultant is qualified to analyze whether medical professionals adhere to standards of care and guidelines. If you are an attorney that requires review and analysis of medical issues, a legal nurse consultant should be part of your team.
Why A Nurse, Not a Doctor?
Doctors require up to fifteen years of education and training to become board certified as surgeons, obstetricians, radiologists and other specialties, and they are handsomely rewarded financially for their services. This would be reason enough not to consider doctors as legal consultants, but the more important reason is that they loathe to break ranks and report that other doctors have failed to use the proper standard of care or made mistakes. Nurses that train to be legal nurse consultants consider their work to be in the public interest, fairly analyzing whether or not the proper care was given to the patient.
Legal Nurse Consultants Are Highly Trained
Legal nurse consultants are always registered nurses (RN’s) that met the licensing standards of the state they practice in. The requirements for nursing licensure will vary, but most states require candidates to have a college degree in nursing from an accredited program. Once candidates complete their nursing education, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Most states also require an assessment of the “moral character” of a registered nurse candidate. Beyond the basics, many legal nurse consultants have Master of Science in nursing (MSN) degrees or are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). Some of the best legal nurse consultants have master’s degrees in health law, healthcare compliance and other relevant areas.
Examples of Legal Nurse Consultant Medical Specialties
Legal nurse consultants often specialize in a specific type of medical issue or a specific industry. For example, there are legal nurse consultants that are nurse practitioners in obstetrics who have thriving practices reviewing medical records for attorneys handling malpractice cases for women that are claiming they were injured by their doctor, nurse practitioner or midwife. Nurses that pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can be eligible for board certification or licensing as a nurse practitioner in many areas. Below are some examples of nursing specialties and how they would apply to work as a legal nurse consultant.
Gerontology: Board certification in gerontology is one of the most valuable qualifications for a legal nurse consultant. Training in the proper methods of caring for elderly patients with chronic and acute conditions for two years or more makes these nurses experts in the area of senior care. Attorneys that are handling cases for clients that have been abused or neglected at nursing homes, benefit greatly from the insight of nurses thoroughly trained in the applicable standard of care. Nurses caring for the elderly in nursing homes are medical practitioners who can be held liable for malpractice for failing to provide proper care, causing or worsening conditions such as bed sores that impact bone or underlying tissue, severe infections, dehydration, malnutrition and “unexplained” injuries such as cuts, bruises, wounds and welts.
Midwifery: This specialty can also be called an obstetrics nurse practitioner. Nurses are trained in all stages of prenatal care, including when to order genetic testing, and all aspects of delivery and postpartum care. Medical malpractice attorneys that suspect negligence can turn to these nurses for an assessment of whether the appropriate standard of care was used. For example, if a baby is born with a genetic disorder when testing should have been ordered, the medical practitioner can be held liable for this omission. A legal nurse consultant can examine the medical records and assist the attorney in making this determination.
Nurse Anesthetist: A board certified nurse anesthetist is trained to deliver the proper amount of anesthesia for patients, based on their age, medical history, body chemistry and other factors. Legal Nurse Anesthetists can assist attorneys representing clients that are claiming injuries as a result of negligent anesthesiology practice.
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner: Neonatal care has advanced tremendously in the 21st Century, with younger infants able to survive, often without deficits. In an area that’s constantly changing, legal neonatal nurses are able to help medical malpractice lawyers determine whether the proper care was used for a child.
Examples of Legal Nurse Consultant Legal Training
Some legal nurse consultants receive all of their legal training on the job, but others have advanced degrees that help them understand the legal aspects of their profession. The very best legal nurse practitioners have invested their time and energy to earn a Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) degree in Health Law. These are two-year programs that provide students with a comprehensive understanding of healthcare law and regulations. This thorough understanding of health law and policy makes legal nurse practitioners with this degree a step above the rest. There are also shorter paralegal programs that train nurses to become legal nurse consultants. Some of these programs offer paralegal certificates that have legal bearing in some states and not others.
Who Hires Legal Nurse Consultants?
Legal nurse consultants are usually hired by lawyers to analyze and report on potential cases so that they can assess whether or not to accept them. This process is crucial because most attorneys take these cases on a contingency fee, only getting paid if the case if successful. Lawyers depend on legal nurse consultants for these crucial decisions. When a relative reports abuse, neglect or even the death of a loved one at a nursing facility, it’s a heart wrenching story, but the lawyer must make a financial decision about whether the tragedy was caused by negligence or is something that was inevitable. Legal nurse consultants are also hired by attorneys defending medical practitioners, hospitals and medical facilities that are accused of malpractice. The reports from legal nurse consultants will help them decide if they should settle the case or go to trial.