The word “malpractice” can be enough to make a clinician cringe. Although providers may strive to practice good medicine, uphold their personal limits, and offer the highest standard of care, many of will still be named in a malpractice suit. When it comes to health care, some patients are not willing to accept a negative outcome. Other malpractice claims may be driven by greed. Nevertheless, there are several crucial precautions that clinicians commonly fail to take in order to better protect themselves. To safeguard your personal, professional, and financial future, consider these malpractice missteps:
When thinking about your malpractice policy, first determine the dollar amount for which you are covered. Some states require a minimum dollar amount for your coverage. So, how much coverage is enough? The answer depends on the area of medicine in which you practice; how complicated your procedures are; what your state regulations say about coverage, risk, and malpractice; and your comfort level.
The conventional thinking used to be that you didn’t want to be a target with large pockets. And while I agree with that concept, a clinician covered for less than the court’s award to the plaintiff is responsible to make up the difference (which could be taken from future earnings). For example, if you’re only covered for $500,000, what happens if a court awards the plaintiff $750,000? You are responsible to make up the $250,000 difference. Some policies stipulate that the coverage limit must also include legal fees, further limiting the amount of insurance money available.
Insufficient knowledge about your policy
I attended a conference recently in which approximately 250 providers in the audience were asked whether they have a copy of their malpractice policy. At most, only 25% raised their hand. If you don’t have a copy of your policy available for reference, how do you know you’re really covered? The office manager of a busy practice once simply forgot to mail the check for the owner’s malpractice policy. It took three months before the clinician figured this out. By then, she had treated hundreds of patients without having liability protection for her income or assets. Although the office manager was at fault, a court of law won’t care – it will hold the clinician liable.
It is also a good idea to have access to your policy in case you move to another practice and a patient sues you years later. Depending on the circumstances under which you left, change in personnel or even a fire could make it next to impossible to find out what malpractice company covered you at the time in question. Every provider should get a copy of their malpractice policy annually to keep at home. It isn’t a bad idea to put your policy renewal date on your calendar as well. In the end, your professional and financial future is on the line.
Ms. Jacobson practices dermatology in Lancaster, Pa. She is also the owner of Strategic Medical Consulting, LLC and PAprofession.com.