Organization Liability: Types of Risk (Part I)

Risk is an important concept for compliance professionals working in the healthcare space to understand. After all, there are many times where risk and liability have crossover to compliance.

For example, in response to a suspected email or electronic health record breach, compliance and risk professionals will need to work together. This work will include:

  • Evaluating the breach
  • Reporting to the insurance carrier
  • Collaborating with a breach coach or legal team to ensure the investigation meets legal requirements and timelines
  • Collaborating with the information technology team and a forensics firm to ensure risk mitigation strategies are implemented and effective

And so on.

Generally speaking, healthcare compliance professionals should have a good working knowledge of organization risks and liabilities, as well as risk mitigation strategies.

This raises two important questions:

  1. What areas of risk do healthcare organizations face?
  2. What are the potential liabilities related to unmanaged or poorly managed risk?

Areas of Risk for a Healthcare Organization

Areas of risk for a healthcare organization are vast, and can involve injury to persons, property and reputation. Several areas of risk include:

Patient safety risks

These include near misses, which are mistakes which almost make it to the patient, as well as events or incidents that do make it to the patient, causing the patient to experience an unanticipated outcome such as a longer hospital stay, disability or death.
For example, a nurse may realize before giving a vaccine to a child that the adult vaccine and dose was drawn up in the syringe instead of the pediatric vaccine and dosage. This would be a near-miss. Along those same lines, a mistake occurs if the adult vaccine dose is actually administered to the child and an allergic reaction occurs.

Operational risks

These include such things as business interruption or supply chain issues. Business interruption incidents may include fire, flood, or pandemic. If the electronic medical record system goes down, and staff have to chart by hand on paper, this would be a business interruption. Supply chain issues can occur due to higher than normal demand or decrease in output by the manufacturer. If an organization cannot obtain needed supplies – such as hand sanitizer or surgical masks – that would be an example of a supply chain issue.

Legal risks

These typically involve lawsuits filed against the organization. Most commonly, lawsuits result from allegations of inappropriate employment practices or medical negligence or malpractice. For example, if a child had an allergic reaction after receiving an adult dose of a vaccine and unfortunately passed away, the parents may file a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice or negligence on behalf of the organization, the provider or the nurse who administered the incorrect vaccine.

Insurance risks

Insurance risks generally stem from a lack of adequate or appropriate insurance coverage or failure to transfer risk. Insurance risks can also connect to legal risks, which can stem from contracts with inadequate risk transfer or failure to conduct due diligence to vet the vendor. In the case of a pandemic, healthcare and other organizations may not have realized that pandemics and resulting business closures may be excluded from their business interruption insurance policy.

Human capital risks

These encompass the inability to hire, contract or retain appropriately trained staff. A lack of ICU level nurses causing staffing shortages would be an example. Human capital risks can also include professional board or licensing complaints against the organization’s doctors, nurses, therapists, or other licensed staff.

Reputational risks

Reputational risks are often forgotten or invisible to an organization until a bad event happens and it is announced to the public – at which point it is too late.

Reputational risk used to be limited to bad publicity which was published in print or reported on television. However, with the increased acceptance and use of social media, reputational risks are more far-reaching than the local newspaper or evening news program, and could potentially have national reach and negative impact on the organization . A newspaper may not run a story about a child who received an incorrect vaccine, but the child’s mother could post to Facebook or other social media platforms that the organization and providers are terrible and not to be trusted.

Practice Tips:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your insurance broker to evaluate your insurance policies by product line (i.e., general liability, property, cybersecurity, etc.) to ensure the organization is adequately covered to protect against most business losses.
  2. Educate staff to ensure they know how and where to report near-misses and mistakes that occur in the organization.
  3. Work with Risk Management to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate organization risks and implement mitigation plans.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and owner of Denise Atwood, PLLC
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

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