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Let's Talk Risk Assessments

In a recent Medscape report on malpractice claims, more than 4,000 physicians were asked whether they have had or would consider a risk assessment. Sixty-seven percent said either they had not had a risk assessment in the past or didn't plan to in the future. The question that wasn't asked was, "why not?"

Is it perhaps because of a lack of understanding of an assessment’s value to a medical practice? The time involved? The financial and nonfinancial costs?

A risk assessment uses standardized questions to better understand activities that may contribute to losses. The questions can illuminate uncertainties that can affect an organization’s ability to meet its objectives. 

So, for a medical practice, let’s say the organization’s objectives are to provide safe, efficient and effective patient care in an atmosphere where staff can feel supported, thrive and earn a good living. 

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about “sharpening the saw.” This means taking the time to make sure your “tools” are correct for the task at hand, rather than continuing to use outdated modes (like a dull saw) that make you work twice as hard. 

Risk assessments are like sharpening the saw. You have a lot going on in your practice and often have little time to do it. However, taking the time to explore your risk areas can be like “sharpening the saw.” The assessment can point out both areas for improvement and areas of exemplary work.

Without this “sharpening,” reactive responses to an unexpected outcome or event, such as a claim, a situation with a patient, etc., may be inefficient, ineffective and fragmented. That’s because your attention would be focused on coping with the event rather than preventing future situations. Proactive activities, such as assessments, can help to identify, recognize and manage the risks areas and possibly prevent them from happening in the first place.

Once risks are identified, they can be analyzed to determine whether action is required (e.g., education, policies, etc.). Then, you can determine what processes are needed to optimally manage the risks. 

How much time is involved in a risk assessment? The time involved really depends on the depth of the process you want to undertake. When we provide a no-cost onsite assessment for our policyholders, we not only ask the questions, we check to see if what you think is being done is actually being done. This is accomplished by reviewing patient records to see evidence of the action. 

For example, if you believe all labs are signed off and dated by the healthcare provider prior to being filed or scanned into the chart, we will review the labs for that evidence. Policies and procedures are beneficial in this regard because they help improve consistency. 

Who performs or assists in an assessment? Usually, the practice manager participates in the assessment. If the practice manager is unfamiliar with some protocols, clinical staff may be included.

The difference between the self-assessments and having an outside assessment is their depth. Additionally, a premium credit is available for policyholders that undergo an assessment.

The Medscape article can be accessed here:

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