Imagine that you are a healthcare professional in charge of an outpatient clinic. A patient comes in for a routine procedure and the clinician performing the service was perceived to be invasive. The patient alleges that he or she was molested. What do you do first? Who do you call and how can you contain the situation? Ultra’s risk management partner, OmniSure Consulting Group, offers a helpline to counsel healthcare professionals for situations exactly like this. We asked the consultants who answer these types of calls how they would advise a clinic manager who faced this type of crisis scenario and here’s what they said:
#1 Take care of the patient
- Assure the patient that his/her complaint will be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if appropriate, the clinician will be reported to the licensing board and police. Let the patient know that you would like him or her to talk to a person who is specifically trained to investigate sexual abuse. Offer immediate medical attention if allegation warrants it.
- Ask the patient if he or she would be willing to see a counselor who could help with the mental and emotional aspects of the event at the facility’s expense (regardless of the outcome of the investigation).
- Obtain the assistance of a forensic nurse or psychiatrist to interview the patient.
- Obtain employee’s description of the event. Take care of the employee too: Assure the employee that you will be objective and that he or she is considered innocent at this point, but that every complaint must be thoroughly investigated. Do not take a statement in writing. Instead, interview and take notes. Do this throughout the investigation.
- Suspend employee pending investigation, but plan to pay the employee for time off if allegation is unsubstantiated.
- Use state specific or industry approved guidelines to conduct investigation.
- If issues surface during the investigation, determine if there is a possible pattern or potential widespread issue (such as failure to get background checks on staff in general).
#3 Report the incident to authorities and be prepared to talk to the media
- Report the allegation to appropriate regulatory agency per setting specific licensing requirements or standards.
- Prepare statements for staff, other patients, family, and media inquiries – you may consider getting help from a PR firm.
#4 Follow up with the patient
- Stay in constant communication with the patient during the investigation. Provide brief factual updates without attributing blame to anyone at any time.
- Provide compassionate disclosure of findings to the patient upon completion of the investigation.
#5 Take appropriate steps after the investigation
- If allegation is substantiated, terminate employee, report him or her to licensure board and police. Prepare statements for patients, family and media (if approached). Report the incident to your insurance carrier. Sequester files & documentation for legal review.
- If allegation is not substantiated, determine if an apology is warranted and desired by the Follow the “Just Culture” decision map, which is designed to reward transparency and use information to improve systems after an adverse outcome. Per the decision map, the facility would provide counseling, education, system redesign, etc. to prevent recurrence.
It’s not always possible to prevent these types of scenarios from happening but handling the situation properly can help reduce the risk of lawsuits and potential negative publicity. Having an expert available to offer guidance and put you in touch with needed resources can help get you get through the ordeal in the least disruptive way.
Brokers, did you know Ultra has an exclusive program with binding authority for outpatient medical facilities? Learn more here: Ultra Health Express