Is it best practice to have witnesses write their own statements for incidents or investigations or to write these statements for them?




Deciding whether to have witnesses write their own statements or not is going to depend on your specific state requirements, your facility policy, and the recommendations of your facility legal counsel. The majority of attorneys recommend that you have two designated/trained administrative staff interview witnesses for their statements, whether it be for a facility incident/event, or any investigation. This recommendation is based on the fact that most staff members do not understand the significance of the information that must be addressed in their statement, nor do they grasp the impact that an unclear or poorly worded statement can have.

When conducting the interview, one of the administrative staff should do the actual interview, with the other staff member documenting the witness statement. Care should be taken by the interviewer to clarify any ambiguous or misleading statements, or statements that may be misinterpreted. For example, when a fall occurs and the witness has stated the resident was observed on the left side of the bed, this should be clarified to verify if it is the left side of the bed based on the resident’s left when lying on their back in the bed, or the staff member’s left when facing the foot of the bed. These varying perspectives can paint a totally different picture of what has occurred.

It is also critical to verify if the information provided by the witness is what they themselves actually observed or what they believed to have occurred based on what they saw after the event took place or what was reported to them by others.  Many staff incorporate in their statements more than just the facts of what they witnessed and will include what they think or were told in a manner that implies it is fact. This can lead to inconsistencies between statements when one is based on the facts observed and one is based on what they think or believe has happened.

Once the interview with the witness is completed, the witness should read the documented statement. If the witness verifies that the statement is an accurate report of the information they relayed, there should be a declaration attesting to this on the document that they sign and date, with a place for the administrative staff member to sign as the scribe for the statement.

Janine Lehman RN, RAC-CT, CLNC
Director of Legal Nurse Consulting

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