Career & Finances | Critical Concepts | Legal / Ethical

Medical Battery: What Can Nurses Do To Prevent It?

  • Medical battery is defined as “harmful or offensive touching of a patient from a medical professional in a healthcare setting.”
  • As a provider, there are several things you can do to ensure that a medical battery accusation is not thrown in your direction.
  • Want to learn more? Keep reading!

NCC News & Content Team

December 03, 2021
Simmons University

Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute (LII) defines battery as, “a physical act that results in harmful or offensive contact with another person without that person’s consent.” 

However, due to its prevalence, there is a specific term for battery within the healthcare professions and is commonly mentioned alongside medical malpractice; medical battery. 

Medical battery is defined as, “harmful or offensive touching of a patient from a medical professional in a healthcare setting.” A provider can be accused of medical battery if there was an inadequate amount of information given to the patient prior to receiving consent on a procedure – which we identify as informed consent 

It is important to note that the patient does not have to be aware of the potentially harmful or offensive touching for a battery to occur, which is why most medical battery claims are from surgical procedures.  

Unfortunately, there are other variations of battery that are commonly found in healthcare settings such as aggravated and sexual. However, we are not going to dive into those currently. 

To avoid being at risk of receiving a medical battery accusation, there are several things you can always to do to ensure that this never happens. Let’s break them down.  

Educating the Patient Thoroughly

We have mentioned this in previous blogs; however, the importance of patient education cannot be stressed enough.  

In most cases, patients do not have the same health-related background as you, so be sure that you are thoroughly explaining everything to them and ensuring that they understand their health conditions, risks, and treatment options.  

Even if it is down to the most minute detail, it is in everyone’s (the patient, you, and the physician) best interest to inform the patient as best as possible. 

nurse showing patient consent form

Obtaining Consent

From signed forms to verbally asking the patient prior to initiating contact, obtaining consent is one of the most important aspects of healthcare delivery.  

There are several types of consent (implied, expressed, informed, and unanimous), however, for the contents of this article, we are going to focus on informed.  

In order for a patient to be able to consent to a treatment, they must be properly educated on the risks, outcomes, and healing processes to follow the procedure; which stems back to patient education.  

As the nurse, you are an advocate for the patient and it is essential that you provide them with the information necessary in order to make an informed decision.  

If a patient feels as if they were not properly informed prior to receiving treatment, this could be a risk for a medical battery accusation.  

Never Forcing Treatment

A healthcare professional’s mantra is to do no harm, but what if a patient is going to die without treatment, yet they’re refusing it? This scenario is one of the most commonly discussed ethical dilemmas that providers encounter.  

If a patient has a written agreement or has verbally stated that they do not wish to receive treatment (whether it is life-saving or not), it is illegal to go against their right to bodily autonomy. 

nurse talking to patient about treatment

Delivering Care Calmly and Compassionately

This one should be a given. In no instance should a provider ever threaten a patient.  

It is vital that you are calmly and kindly interacting with your patients, regardless of if they are reciprocating.  

Additionally, it is essential that you are always following your facility’s protocol in the event that a patient becomes agitated.  

However, in short, do not ever aggressively touch a patient or threaten them in any capacity, as this could potentially harm them and put you at risk for a medical battery accusation.  

In sum, you must ensure that you are holding yourself accountable and following through with the necessary protocol and procedures established by your facility to ensure that you are not at risk of receiving a medical battery accusation. 

Additionally, please note that if you witness a colleague violating any of the policies that could put their patient at risk, it is in your best interest to report it immediately. If you see something, say something.  

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