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Are nurses liable for discharging a patient without following standard medication policies?

Dear Nancy,

During discharge of a patient on our mental health unit, a physician taped pills in a cup for the patient to take at home. Nurses were instructed to give the cup to the patient, despite no times or names of meds on the cup. The physician said these were for the patient’s safety. Are the nurses on this unit liable for not following standard medication policies?



Dear Jeanette,

The real concern you should have here lies in the whole process of providing medications for patients who are discharged from your mental health unit. It is unclear what the physician means by the method being for the patient’s safety. Without more information about the meaning of the statement, it does not make sense.

The provision of medications for a discharged patient should follow standard, acceptable medication administration policies. In this instance, the medication should be placed in a sealed envelope used for medications with the patient’s name, the name of the medication, the dose, and when it is to be taken by the patient. Placing medications in a cup and taping the medication in it does not conform to standard, acceptable medication administration policies.

Moreover, if you are the nurse handing out this taped cup of medicine with no identifiers on it, how do you know which patient gets what cup? Also, a general standard of practice in medication administration is you never give a medication you did not prepare.

In addition, nurses are responsible for discharge instructions, so what do you say to the patient about the medications, For example, what it is, when to take it and when to refill at the pharmacy. If this practice were to come to the attention of the state board of nursing, you may be facing allegations of unprofessional conduct and a failure to meet standards of practice.

The patient is clearly at risk for getting the wrong medication, losing the medication on the way home and/or taking it incorrectly. You need to talk to your nurse manager and/or the CNO as well as risk management about this practice. It is a disaster waiting to happen for all involved.



Nancy Brent

Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD,’s legal information columnist, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. To ask Nancy a question, email [email protected]

By | 2021-05-07T16:30:38-04:00 August 10th, 2015|Categories: Nursing Careers and Jobs|0 Comments

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Barry Bottino
Barry Bottino is a freelance writer and editor who has more than 25 years of experience at various newspapers and magazines.

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