Malpractice: Your Staff Could Help Cause or Avert Lawsuits

Leigh Page

Disclosures

July 10, 2018

In This Article

Support Staff Can Present Malpractice Risks

Your office support staff is your first line of defense against malpractice risks. They can help you prevent errors—or they can introduce new ones. They can enhance patients' respect for your services—or they can anger and frustrate patients, perhaps leading to dissatisfaction and even a malpractice lawsuit.

As the supervising physician for your support staff, who often are medical assistants (MAs), you are fully liable for their actions. MAs sometimes have very little clinical training, and physicians are expected to be continually supervising them.

Because they work in all aspects of the practice, support staff can be involved in many kinds of malpractice risks. They escort patients to the exam room, measure vital signs, and provide patients with follow-up information after the visit.

They also call in prescriptions, enter information in the electronic health record (EHR), handle billing and practices finances, and work as schedulers and receptionists.

In most cases, support staff are highly responsible, work hard to improve the office and its functioning, and provide key help for the physician. But there are some times when that is not the case.

MAs Are Not Licensed

Support staff are more tightly bound to you than other employees, such as registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). Whereas RNs and NPs are separately licensed, MAs are unlicensed and are regulated through the doctor's own medical license. And whereas employed NPs often have their own malpractice coverage, this is virtually unheard of for MAs.

"Staff who have only basic clinical training may not be able to prevent a malpractice issue, but they sure can cause one," says Hayes Whiteside, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president of risk resources at ProAssurance, a malpractice carrier in Birmingham, Alabama.

Also, "If they are not making patients their highest priority," he says, "patients may direct their ill feelings toward the physician."

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