As a healthcare provider, you’ve likely spent a significant amount of time learning the specific lingo of your industry.
You’re completely familiar with all of the necessary abbreviations (such as “BID” to indicate twice-daily dosage on a prescription pad, or “NKDA” to confirm a lack of known drug allergies) and Latin etymologies for common medical terminology. However, despite this extensive knowledge that you may grasp, you may be surprised to learn that you might be falling short in other avenues of communication.
These days, patients have grown to both demand and expect a higher caliber of care from their healthcare providers. It’s not enough to simply examine them and send them on their merry way afterward.
You also need to be mindful about asking enough questions — but without prying too deeply and making them uncomfortable — and following up with them after they start a treatment protocol. Failure to do so can also have far-reaching implications. Not only can this put your patient in harm’s way, but it can also place your practice at risk.
Neither your patient themselves nor the board cares if you “tried your best” and still failed to meet the basic standards of care that are required of you. Lawsuits, official reprimands, and even the forfeiture of your license and loss of your practice can quickly follow if you aren’t incredibly careful.
If you’re looking to improve your communication at your practice, while also mitigating any potential risk that may arise, then it’s essential to be aware of these three fairly common issues that all small medical clinics can face on a day-to-day basis.
1. Inadequate EHR in Place
Gone are the days of the conventional paper chart, filled from top to bottom in your hastily scrawled annotations. Most medical clinics now turn to EHR (electronic health records) to help keep track of their patients’ chief complaints and concerns. More efficient and less prone to user error, these digital charts make it much easier for you to document any correspondence between yourself and your patient while they are in your care. However, not having adequate EHR in place can quickly spell out disaster for you.
While many clinicians may have already made this conversion to EHR at their practices, a surprising number of doctors and healthcare providers struggle with digital literacy. Failure to grasp all the nuances of what the patient’s digital record may entail can be quite detrimental, and the board and your patient’s lawyer don’t care if it was an “honest mistake.” This also includes any EHR correspondence between your clinic and any you may refer your patient to, as well. If you want to avoid these problems, then it’s vital that you stay abreast of emerging EHR technology.
2. Security and HIPAA Violations
As a healthcare provider, you’re no stranger to navigating PHI (protected health information) at work. You know better than sending a text to your spouse that may include any PHI about a patient, and you would never take a picture of a chart and upload it to your social media. But did you know that any comments you can make — both on or off the clock — can also violate HIPAA? Even if you pull one of your staff aside to privately brief them on a patient’s treatment plan, if someone else overhears those comments, then a PHI violation just occurred.
This doesn’t just include yourself, either. If your staff makes careless or inappropriate remarks, this can also affect you. Even if these comments are seemingly benign and they meant no harm by them, they can still contain PHI.
In order to better protect yourself, you need to make sure your staff is trained on how to handle any confidential information. Revealing any information about a patient, even in a private conversation between employees during their breaks or in a communal area at your office, should never be permitted.
3. Lengthy Delays in Correspondence
Finally, one of the most severe communications you may face at your practice can be gaps in correspondence. For example, if you’re referring a patient to another provider, you need to make sure you finalize all communication within the mandated time frame (generally 24 to 48 hours, though it can vary).
You should also include all notes on your patient and any relevant details about their treatment, to help better facilitate a smoother transition between providers. Your patients should also be advised of this transfer of care, as well, so they aren’t blindsided by it.
Patients also need to be able to contact you at all times. While they should always be advised to contact the nearest emergency room for major health issues, smaller-scale matters should also be promptly addressed by yourself or your employees. If your staff are on another line, on a break, or even if it’s after hours and there’s nobody operating the phone system at all, having a phone answering service is of the utmost value. This way, you can have the means to triage calls and even respond to them in real-time, should a crisis actually occur.
Being a healthcare provider can certainly be difficult, even if you are one of the top providers in your field. For most, working in this industry is almost always driven by genuine compassion and care for your fellow human. Losing your license or your practice, therefore, would be especially devastating if it occurred as the result of an honest mistake or an accident. But by taking the time to be precise in your communication, and patching any holes in it before they become a bigger problem, you can help ensure the longevity of your clinic throughout the duration of your career.