Marie Dancer, managing partner at Richard Nelson LLP – on helping healthcare clients to protect their right to practise

It can be tricky running any small business. For healthcare professionals there are even more potential pitfalls, as I’ve seen through my work on many potentially damaging lawsuits following issues in practice. Now, it isn’t realistic to expect that mistakes won’t happen, however, the risk of them occurring in the first place can be minimised and any impacts reduced. Here are the tips I offer to my clients in the healthcare professions to best protect themselves.

Keep detailed patient records
This can dramatically help with a tricky situation. I’d recommend all practices produce records containing details about every decision that’s made, including the reasons why. This can be relevant to some scenarios more than others, for example; if a patient has taken some persuading about a particular course of treatment. It’s a time consuming job - and not everyone in the practice will take kindly to having to do it – but notes can be used as a reference if any questions are brought up at a later date. Notes that have more details may also aid with recalling memories about the patient or client in question.

Deal promptly with complaints
Another good solution to preventing issues before they develop. It’s important not to dismiss a complaint. Instead, try to see the situation from the perspective of the person complaining. If they’re willing to spend the time making the complaint, then the chances are that they feel very strongly about the situation that has occurred. Think of these situations as an opportunity to train staff and improve the business as a whole.

Sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word
Perhaps the most valuable thing that I’ve learnt is that mistakes happen and when they do, often the best thing to do is to simply - and sincerely - say ‘sorry’. A genuine apology can go a long way to resolving many situations. It’s good practise to demonstrate genuine reflection and an understanding of the situation. State any lessons learned and provide a detailed explanation of what went wrong. I’d strongly recommend making reassurances that the mistake won’t be repeated, even going as far as demonstrating that the practice has made alterations to procedures and policies as a result.

Build an open team culture
Fostering an open culture and encouraging honestly within a team produces a great level of trust and can create a strong team ethos. If staff feel they’re able to admit to a mistake, then it’s likely to make the management of a situation a lot better, and in the long run, less mistakes will be made as a result. A business owner wants to be made aware of an issue at the earliest possible time in order to manage the situation effectively and ensure that their team can learn from it. It’s not good for a business in the long term to create an environment where staff cover up mistakes or are afraid to confess to their problems.

Prioritise staff development
Looking after staff can alleviate so many potential problems for a business. A complaint is just as likely to occur simply by the way that a patient or customer has been treated as it is by the clinical care which they have received. This can be countered by making sure that staff attend regular training sessions. Refresher sessions on soft skills - such as customer communication and patient care issues - are equally as important as clinical competencies.

Assuming that staff within a business will instinctively work in a certain way is not good practise. Without detailed policies, procedures and guidance in place, it can’t be expected that staff will automatically fit a certain work ethos. Giving staff guidance will help out the whole organisation in the long term by creating a team that carries out its responsibilities correctly, minimising the risk of an issue occurring.

Keep covered
Last but not least, something which I’ve seen a couple of times is healthcare professionals and practices failing to keep up-to-date with their insurance policies. It’s vital for them to regularly check they have sufficient cover in place should problems arise, so it should be a priority to notify an insurer promptly of any issues on the horizon. Insurance companies will often want to be involved with issues right from the outset, especially serious ones. They may even be able to assist in deterring a patient or customer from full blown legal action.