Penny Simpson Brooke JD, MS, APRN

October 2012 
Volume 42  Number 10
Pages 10 - 11
  PDF Version Available!

I'm an RN working in an outpatient clinic. Last week, a man came in for a surgical procedure that entailed sedation. As required, he was accompanied by another adult (his wife) who could drive him home.After meeting discharge criteria, he was released home. I happened to look out the window soon after he and his wife went out the door and watched him, not his wife, get into the driver's seat and drive the car away. Apparently they got home safely, but if he'd caused an accident and someone had been hurt, would I have been liable because I didn't report what I saw?-M.V., N.C.Your clinic should have a strict policy and procedure for informing patients that they can't safely drive following surgical procedures that require sedation. A written document, with the patient's signature acknowledging that he or she agrees not to get behind the wheel of the car upon departure, is important not only to minimize the clinic's liability, but also to reinforce this warning to the patient. Some clinics tell patients that the clinic staff will call a taxi if no one is available to drive the patient home, and that they'll notify the police if they see the patient ignoring this important safety warning.You need to know your clinic's policy and procedure for handling this situation. Did you have time to approach the couple to remind them of the seriousness of the clinic's no-driving warning when you first saw the patient in the driver's seat? It's difficult for nursing staff to enforce the warning once a patient is driving out of the parking lot.Discuss this incident with your supervisor. Find out if your clinic has written guidelines on how you should proceed if this happens again. Documentation of what a patient was told about not driving, as well as what you observed when the patient left the clinic, would be important evidence if the patient had caused a crash and harmed himself or anyone else.When a nurse friend of mine in another state checked on an older adult patient, she realized

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