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Effective Hiring Practices to Avoid Potential Malpractice Allegations

November 15th, 2018

Jason Newton

Behavior drives claims, and while the correlation between negative physician-patient relationships and malpractice lawsuits has long been understood, physicians are not the only people responsible for fostering positive relationships with patients. The behavior of office staff can also influence patients’ experience of a practice and their likelihood of filing a claim.

In this high-deductible, online-review era, it is essential that patients receive empathetic care and exceptional customer service from all staff members. Whether it’s poor bedside manner from a disengaged physician, front desk personnel neglecting to inform waiting patients of delays, sarcastic comments from medical assistants, or a billing department that is insensitive to the needs of individual patients, each interaction can have a significant impact on the patient’s perception of their physician’s competency and may increase their willingness to allege malpractice.

In order to provide an optimal patient experience that also helps minimize potential liability, physicians and practice leaders should make strategic hiring decisions for positions throughout the organization, including both medical and non-medical staff.

Fostering a Positive Environment for Enhanced Employee Performance

When addressing the performance of personnel, practice leaders should assess the cumulative organization, following the patient journey to identify each touchpoint with different departments and employees. Most importantly, physicians and practice leaders should lead by example, encouraging staff to be open and honest about the current state of the patient experience and to appropriately escalate adverse situations without fear of reprimand. Staff who “see something” with regard to a poor patient experience should feel comfortable saying something.

Unfortunately, the standard medical school curriculum doesn’t include instruction on how to run a small business and attempting to perform the functions of a human resources department can prove to be a significant challenge for physicians and practice leaders with no relevant experience. Having an in-house Chief Patient Experience Officer may be beyond reach for most small medical practices, but by hiring an experienced HR representative or utilizing HR consultation services, physicians and practice leaders can arm themselves with the necessary tools to accurately assess their practices, remedy any existing vulnerabilities, and implement effective hiring procedures moving forward.

Recruiting the Right People

The most effective way to foster positive relationships with patients is by recruiting talented, knowledgeable staff with sound interpersonal skills. It’s important for a practice to first identify the type of individual they need for a particular position before beginning the recruitment process. By understanding the requirements of the job as well as desirable soft skills, practice leaders are more likely to have success recruiting effective staff. Training can be acquired but altering personality can be next to impossible. A quick litmus test that could be applied to all candidates is whether the candidate seems to be a glass-half-full or half-empty person.  In my experience, there are six key qualities to look for in a successful potential employee, regardless of position: patience, humility, courtesy, willingness to listen, flexibility, and competency. Whether attempting to hire an experienced physician or front desk assistant, when practices hire individuals that embody these qualities, patients are more likely to have positive interactions at all stages of communication.

In order to generate an exceptional patient experience, practices need to attract and retain the best talent available. In today’s market, job seekers have the opportunity to be more discerning about where they would like to work, so it’s important for practices to make themselves attractive to potential employees. To assess the current state of employee satisfaction within the organization, practice leaders can perform an internal audit, requesting the anonymous input of existing staff. Some questions to ask may include:

  1. Do you feel that you are receiving fair market pay?
  2. Do we offer a competitive benefits package?
  3. Do we have reasonable hours and PTO to ensure work-life balance?
  4. Are there other things that we can do to enhance your experience as an employee?
  5. What can we do to help you enhance the experience of our patients?

By understanding the current perception of employees, practices will have the ability to not only decide what type of employer they wish to be but also identify specific ways to make themselves more attractive to new recruits that will best serve patient-centric goals. Ultimately, by providing employees with an environment in which they can achieve work-life balance, work as a team with other staff, and have a clear path for growth and education, practices will position themselves as an ideal workplace for desirable job applicants.

Final Thoughts

Protecting physicians against potential malpractice suits requires more than just good medicine. Patients that have a positive experience at each stage of their journey are much less likely to have a negative perception of the care received, lowering the risk of potential malpractice allegations. By hiring friendly, knowledgeable, and effective staff members, practice leaders can feel comfortable that they have reduced their risk of a malpractice claim.

Medical Mutual members who would like assistance identifying effective staff recruitment practices are welcome to contact our dedicated HR|Experts representative, Dee Brown, for consultation at dee.brown@callhrexperts.com or 919-431-6096.

Jason Newton is Medical Mutual’s Senior Vice President & Associate General Counsel, based in Raleigh, NC.

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