The most common way of delegating authority is to write an order in a hospital
chart or otherwise formally record orders for NPPs. The physician may write the
order in person, or a nurse may enter it in the chart at the physician’s direction.
Formal orders are valuable for clarifying the delegation of authority in the
hospital setting, though they are less commonly used in private offices.
Standing orders, which include protocols, are a special case of written
physician’s orders. A standing order is an order conditioned upon the
occurrence of certain clinical events. The important characteristic of a standing
order is that all the patients who meet the criteria for the order receive the
same treatment. A common use of standing orders is in public health clinics
that treat specific diseases. A venereal disease control program will use the
CDC protocols for antibiotic dosages. Once the specific venereal disease is
identified, the nurse administers the antibiotics as specified by the CDC
protocol and authorized by the physician directing the clinic. In this situation,
the CDC protocol is a standing order from the medical director, and the
conditional event is the diagnosis of a specific venereal disease.
It is important to differentiate standing orders from
preprinted orders: orders
that the physician uses repeatedly and has photocopied to save the trouble
and potential errors of rewriting each time they are used. Although the orders
are the same for all patients, they are not standing orders because they are
not conditional. The physician, not the nurse, determines whether the printed
orders will be used in a given case. Unlike a standing order, until the physician
incorporates the printed order into the chart, the nurse cannot initiate
treatment. Preprinted orders are a useful tool, but they can lead to problems if
a patient requires a variation in the usual printed order. These variations must
be carefully marked on the orders and the nursing staff notified that the
printed order has been modified.
Direct orders are voice orders that are given directly to NPPs. Sometimes these
orders are documented in the medical records, but usually they are carried out
at once and not recorded. For example, when a surgeon directs the operating
room nurse assisting in a procedure, some of the surgeon’s orders will be
documented, but most will not. Documenting the individual orders is not a
problem in this situation because the physician is directly supervising the
nurse’s work. The satisfactory completion of the nurse’s work will be
documented as part of the operative report.
In office practice, neither the voice orders nor their satisfactory completion will
necessarily be documented in the patient’s chart. This makes it difficult to
determine whether the physician has given a direct order, or the NPPs are
acting out of routine. Unless these routine actions are carried out according to
a strict protocol, the physician will not be able to ensure that the proper
nursing functions have been carried out. If the physician is sued over a
question about the nurse’s actions, there will be no record to establish what
was done to the patient.