How to reduce communication risks within your practice
Safety, confidentiality, technology. For physicians, managing risk goes beyond making sound clinical decisions. With all of these areas to monitor, communication plays a big role in risk management.
“The importance of communicating effectively with patients and their families cannot be emphasized enough — it is one of the best ways to mitigate risk,” says Graham Billingham, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, chief medical officer of The Medical Protective Company, a national professional liability insurer (“Six Ways Physicians Can Prevent Patient Injury and Avoid Lawsuits,” Medical Economics, December 10, 2013).
Communicate well and you can prevent a host of problems — but communicate poorly and you may put your practice at risk. Here are three key areas to keep a close eye on:
Being open and honest is the best policy, but how you and your staff communicate is just as important as what you say. Protect patients’ privacy during phone conversations and in-office interactions. It’s absolutely vital that your office keep all personal data and billing information confidential — not only to manage risk, but also to maintain patient trust.
Be aware of public areas and make sure conversations with patients take place in a private space or cannot be overheard, especially when discussing medical and financial information. Document phone conversations and update medical records as appropriate.
Prior to hiring, screen potential employees by conducting background checks. Establish standardized policies regarding patient communication, release of medical records and documentation, and safety procedures. (A list of office policies to consider can be found in this risk management guide.)
Staff members should have a solid understanding of how to handle patients’ questions about medical care and financial responsibilities, and they should never make statements about the expected outcome of medical treatments. Provide training and education on all office policies and federal regulations — everything from social media usage to HIPAA — and review compliance on a regular basis.
Security and technology
Be aware of the risks associated with the use of electronic communications and mobile devices. If you use email, ensure that patients understand your policies surrounding this form of communication and have them sign a consent form. Whether it’s via phone, fax or email, confirm that all communication is directed to the correct person.
Electronic medical records should include proper documentation and authentication. Put security measures in place — for your EHR system as well as mobile devices — and schedule regular backups of medical records.
The bottom line? Be proactive about managing communication risk. By taking precautions and providing the proper education for your staff, you will protect your patients and your practice.