Recently I was on an airplane when a passenger became very ill and went to the restroom. A flight attendant asked if there was any health professional available to provide help.
My first thought was “Oh, no. I haven’t practiced in years! Do I really want to get involved? And, if I do, can I get sued if I try to help.”
After a few quick moments, my heart went out to this poor person in need. No one else seemed to be getting up to help so I rose from seat. Fortunately, there was one other nurse on the flight who also got up and the two of us were able to manage the situation.
You would be surprised how much great medical equipment the airlines have on their aircrafts.
We were in contact with personnel on the ground and instructed to start an IV which, fortunately, the other nurse had skills in performing. We gave the passenger fluids and she started feeling better. I was grateful we landed not too long after that.
Of course, I had to go research this issue to determine if I could be sued and if my license was safe. I also had to determine whether I had an ethical duty to respond to the passenger’s crisis in the first place?
Every State has enacted what’s called “Good Samaritan” legislation. There is even a Federal law that governs health care providers who voluntarily care for a person in need on an airplane. The laws vary from state to state but the main gist is that as long as you are not grossly negligent, you should be covered. In fact, certain States such as Minnesota and Vermont, have “duty to rescue” laws which require health care professionals to render assistance in an emergency.
The “Good Samaritan laws” are a defense but you still can be sued. Since you most likely would encounter an accident or emergency situation outside of your employment, your employer will not cover you for such medical assistance. In this case, having your own malpractice insurance is helpful.
A health care provider assumes that role 24 hours a day, working or not. Therefore, if you give advice and there is an adverse outcome, you would not be covered by the Good Samaritan laws.
If you are a health care provider and do not have prescribing ability, do NOT give a pill from your prescription to someone else. This may not be malpractice but it certainly is a violation of the Nurse Practice Act.
If you do encounter one of these situations, do only what you are qualified to do. Stay within your professional limitations. In my situation on that flight, I did not feel comfortable starting an IV and if I was the only one tending to this person, I would have declined starting the IV.
However, if someone does need assistance, don’t worry. Just know the specifics of your state’s laws and you will be protected by the Good Samaritan Laws. You can look up the law here.