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How Small Practice Physicians Can Avoid Legal Woes in 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

This article originally appeared on Capson Physicians Insurance's blog

As 2017 comes to a close, we all make personal resolutions. But what about professional resolutions designed to ensure a prosperous, productive and stress-free new year? For solo and small practice physicians, specific resolutions could lay the groundwork for a year of unparalleled success. But choosing not to prepare for the inevitable pitfalls all practices face could result in a year of financial and legal headaches. The truth is that it’s not a matter of “if” a physician will face a professional crisis, it’s when. The good news is that physicians can follow simple steps to avoid unwanted drama.

First, let’s understand the reality. For solo practitioners and those in small practices, the sphere of risk is greater than for colleagues who operate in large health care systems. For the latter, in-house attorneys and sweeping professional liability coverage may provide a cushion of security. But big systems are not a perfect fit for everyone. Some physicians prefer autonomy, providing highly personalized services, and reaping the rewards of their own businesses. Furthermore, the need for rural practitioners attracts physicians who want to make a positive difference in underserved communities. Whatever reasons physicians have for going small, they all deserve the same protection as their colleagues.

The common denominator with physicians in solo or small practices, and those who work in large systems, is this: every physician needs to protect their reputation and assets! The difference is that large players are prepared for the inevitabilities of working in health care. They statistically expect complaints, technology breaches, lawsuits and bad reviews. They employ in-house attorneys to prepare for and navigate every possible scenario their physicians might face. Small groups, however, tend to stay put until a crisis emerges. For them, medical malpractice, compromised medical records, employee disputes, patient complaints, and more are obstacles to be dealt with as needed. Why? It’s simple psychology. Bad things happen to other people, right? Wrong. Even the most beloved and competent physicians in the world treat hundreds or thousands of patients every year, employ dozens of people, and have their professional information posted on the internet. We live in an age when dealing with one person equals dealing with personal networks of countless others. Waiting for a crisis is simply not sustainable.

Once a year, physicians purchase professional liability coverage from an insurance carrier. But in most cases, insureds don’t realize that the legal claims against them are being handled by claims adjusters, not attorneys! According to Capson Physicians Insurance President & Founder Maury Magids, “We have attorneys on staff who serve in the same capacity as attorneys at large health systems. Also, our select defense panel includes senior partners from leading medical malpractice law firms. This creates a peer-to-peer relationship between our attorneys and the patient’s attorneys, reducing the time and expense of closing claims. With this model, non-meritorious claims close 83% faster than the industry standard. Not only does that obviously save time and money, we give physicians back peace of mind, so they can focus on their patients.”

Beyond professional liability claims, risk takes many shapes and does not rest in isolated incidents. According to Dr. Jeff Segal, founder and CEO of Medical Justice and eMerit, physicians need to be more proactive in preventing scenarios that may compromise their practices.

“Risk is an ecosystem of potential threats that can derail or destroy an entire practice or career,” Dr. Segal explains. “It can feel overwhelming when balanced with the greatest responsibility of all… caring for patients. However, physicians do have a lot of control in how they prioritize managing their reputations and taking solid steps in protecting their practices. They have options.” Dr. Segal believes that a holistic approach to mitigating potential threats to physicians’ reputations is critical to preventing problems before they escalate.

For example, some solo or small practice physicians may not understand that having an attorney working on their behalf within their professional liability carrier is critical to the outcome of their cases. Medical malpractice claims can be very stressful, but most are settled before trial in mediation. So, what’s the key to developing strong patient relationships?

“We know definitively that most patients absolutely love and trust their physicians. Still, it’s impossible to please everyone. But, there’s more. Physicians also have to contend with employees, the Board of Medicine, colleagues and business partners, among other stakeholders. So I always encourage fellow physicians not to wait for a professional crisis to happen. Be prepared. Ask questions. Physicians instinctively know that providing great care to patients is not only a calling, it’s a calling card,” Dr. Segal continued. “We need to make it easier for physicians to get the specialized attention they need. A failure to plan is a plan for failure.”

There are additional options to implementing a dynamic patient relationship initiative in your own practice. Companies like Press Ganey enable smaller physician practices to leverage methodology, benchmarking and improvement tools to capture the voice of the patient and improve the patient experience. Press Ganey uses scientifically rigorous surveys and rich reporting tools to provide insights and guidance to help create and implement sustainable action plans and initiatives for patient-centered care.

To mitigate concerns and create a practice culture that is proactive and stable, here are three ways small practice and solo physicians can make 2018 a year of change:

Continue reading on Capson Physicians Insurance's site

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