Risk Management In Healthcare Part 4: Do You Have An Extra $290,934?

Chances are you don’t… I know I don’t!

I took the liberty and “borrowed” the second half of my title from a headline published on the back cover of the October issue of The Nurse Practitioner journal.

I just couldn’t pass it up; the headline was just too perfect. It was an ad published by NSO medical malpractice insurance.

Here is the direct quote from the ad…

”$290,934… that’s the average cost for a nurse practitioner to defend against a medical malpractice suit ($64,327) plus the average cost of settlement payment ($226,607) if the claim is settled against you!”

By the way, you can get more detailed liability statistics by reading the “Nurse Practitioner 2012 Liability Update” referenced in the ad; you may find it rather interesting…

Why couldn’t I resist the quote? Why did I think it’s so perfect?

Because managing liability risk, is the topic of discussion for this article.

But before I continue with today’s topic…If you haven’t read the first three articles in this series on Risk, you can click the following links to read Part1 (Identification & Prevention), Part2 (Financial Risk), and Part3 (Compliance Risk).

Professional Liability Insurance

One of the fundamental ways to protect yourself and your office from liability risk is to carry professional liability insurance.

While it’s not always possible to avoid malpractice, there are certain steps you can take making it less likely you get drawn into a malpractice lawsuit, to begin with.

Of course, if there is blatant malpractice and actual medical neglect occurred, not much can help you…

But what I’m referring to here, are instances and events that have the potential to cause avoidable medical errors and create unhappy, disgruntled patients.

Avoidable medical errors are those that could have been prevented, had there been proper policies and procedures in place being followed each and every time, by everyone.

Avoidable errors can also be minimized by well trained and sensitive staff, aware of the impact of their attitude and quality of interactions with patients.

While neither customer nor patient is always right, it’s good practice to remember that a disgruntled patient has the power to create a lot of problems for your office.

Your Patients Are The Reason…

It’s also good to recall that your patients are the main reason you are in business. This is all too easy to forget when the office is busy and hectic. Seemingly everyone wants something from you… right now.

Take a deep breath and remember that they are the reason you are in practice! Stay calm and train your staff to do the same.

Once someone files a complaint or lawsuit against you, you are forced to defend yourself. It matters not if there is any merit to the claim; you still have to deal with it.

And it will cost you time and money; not to mention a big headache.

So what type of “liability risk” and errors am I referring to? It doesn’t have to be something dramatic or extreme. Think of the following situations:

  • An unhappy patient files a complaint against you or your clinic.
    • Perhaps there was a scheduling mistake, inconveniencing the patient… and it’s not the first time this has happened.
    • An oversight in tending to refills, leaving a patient very angry and without needed medications for a period of time.
  • Critical referrals that don’t get done in time, leading to problems for patients getting care in a timely fashion.
  • Charts that don’t get finished in a timely manner… possibly leading to errors down the road.

The point is that most of the above scenarios could be addressed via:

  • implementing or tightening existing policies and procedures
  • improved training of employees
  • delivering exceptional customer care

Build Good Relationships With Your Patients

From a risk management point of view, you want patients that are happy with your office. They like you and your office and feel good about the quality of care they receive from you.

The idea is this… if your patients feel good about your office, have good experiences, and get good care from you, it will go a long way when something should go wrong.

People are less likely to file a complaint or lawsuit against someone they like and trust. This is probably one of the simplest, yet highly effective risk management strategies.

And why wouldn’t you work toward having a good relationship with your patients? Better relationships with patients translate into a better working environment for yourself and your staff.

Evaluate Your Current Process

Here are a few pointers to start building good relationships with patients. And both your patients and staff will benefit from it.

  1. Start with an evaluation of what happens at the front desk…
    1. Are patients greeted and acknowledged when entering the office? Or are they ignored until someone gets around to talking to them?
    2. Is the phone answered in a courteous and friendly manner, promptly? Or are callers put on perpetual hold?
    3. Is your waiting area friendly, inviting, and relaxing? Or is it barren and cold?
  1. Next, evaluate what happens at checkout…
    1. Is the checkout process smooth and easy for patients? Or are patients left waiting because no one is there to help them?
    2. Can they schedule follow appointments right there? Or do they have to call back to schedule another appointment?
  1. Finally, evaluate what happens in between…
    1. How long do patients sit in the exam rooms to wait for the provider?
    2. Do patients feel their concerns have been addressed?
    3. Do patients feel listened to? Or do they feel they have been talked down to?

Here’s what to do next:

Examine your office with the above questions in mind. Look at how you do things today and what could be improved.

Ask yourself if you have clear and detailed policies and procedures in place that are actually followed by all. Or do you need to update and improve your policies and procedures for greater compliance?

How can you find answers to the above questions and determine how your patients feel about your office?

Simply listen and observe… this alone will get you a lot of the answers you need.

Beyond that, most patients will let someone in your office know if they are not happy. Perhaps they’ll let the person at the front desk know that they don’t like how they’ve been treated. Or perhaps they’ll drop a casual comment in the waiting area.

If you suspect that a patient or staff is unhappy, ask them about it, and ask for their feedback.

Another thing to consider is to give patients the opportunity to leave written, anonymous feedback about their experience with your office.

Make it a habit of listening to feedback you get from patients and staff and  respond to it.

Building good rapport with your patients will go a long way in avoiding complaints and lawsuits that could come from disgruntled and unhappy patients.

We’d love to hear from you…

Tell us what you think and share what YOU do to manage risk in your office.


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians” and a regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.

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