Health care is a highly complex and ever-changing environment that can lend itself to high-risk, and life-threating, situations. Healthcare professionals, including nursing professionals, can make mistakes so having the appropriate malpractice coverage in place is crucial. While healthcare facilities must secure medical liability coverage for their organization and its employees there are benefits for nursing professionals having their own professional liability policy.

Georgia Reiner, a senior risk specialist with Nurses Service Organization (NSO), says there are a few key differences between employer-provided malpractice coverage and an individual professional liability insurance policy.

First is peace of mind.

“If there were ever to be a conflict between a nurse’s best interests and their employer’s best interests, the employer provided coverage is intended to protect the employer first and foremost, and really only the nurse by extension,” Reiner said. “Whereas if the nurse has their own coverage, that can then afford them their own attorney, their own representation to defend them and their interests.”

Second, when nursing professionals secure their own professional liability coverage they are adding an extra layer of protection, Reiner added.

“So, if a nurse finds themselves involved in a lawsuit, the coverage provided by an individual policy can take effect if the primary policy winds up being exhausted,” she said. “And it can help protect the nurse from any excess judgments.”

Third, by purchasing their own policies, nurses alleviate the stress of having to worry whether the employer provided coverage is adequate, or whether their employer is making any changes to coverage that may impact what level of protection could be afforded to the nurse if there were to be a lawsuit, she said.

There could be serious cover gaps in an employer’s policy. An employer’s policy could only provide coverage for a nurse for incidents that occur at work and coverage may not apply for State Board of Nursing (SBON) investigations.

“A lot of facilities won’t cover nurses for the cost of defense in a disciplinary investigation involving the State Board of Nursing,” Reiner said. “In fact, in many cases, it’s the nurse’s own employer or coworker who winds up reporting them to the State Board of Nursing for alleged misconduct. So, this alone is often reason enough for some nurses to want to purchase their own professional liability policy.”

Cases involving the State Board of Nursing can cost thousands of dollars, she said, noting that a recent report found that the average cost to defend a nurse in a State Board of Nursing matter tops $5,000.

In today’s competitive nursing job market, nurses are changing employers frequently and they should have coverage that can follow them from job to job. But employers only offer claims-made policies to employees. “So, if a suit winds up being filed against a nurse for work that they performed while working for a former employer, they probably won’t be afforded coverage by either their former employer or their new employer,” she said. “Whereas if you were to purchase your own individual occurrence policy, that coverage then follows the nurse from job to job, and provides coverage for nursing actions outside of work, such as if they decide to volunteer.”

Malpractice coverage isn’t top of mind to nursing professionals when switching employers, Reiner says. “But when they do switch roles, if they don’t have their own professional liability insurance policy, or if they’re even considering purchasing their own professional liability policy as they’re switching jobs, nurses should have a clear understanding of what coverage is being provided for them and what the policy limits are.”

Reiner says that interest in the coverage has ticked up since the onset of the pandemic, which led to increased concerns about the risks that nurses face in their job. Coverage can be purchased by registered nurses for as little as $110 per year, she added.

“While we haven’t necessarily seen an increase in litigation involving nurses, we have seen a lot of action coming from those State Boards of Nursing involving complaints against nurses,” she said. “So that again hammers home just why it’s important for them to have their own comprehensive coverage that can provide representation in those cases.”

Buying the coverage is worth it for the peace of mind, Reiner says, and for that extra layer of protection.