While a patient’s overall level of satisfaction depends largely on interactions with the physician, the office staff plays a large role as well. Physicians rely heavily on office staff to manage many important functions, and staff has a significant influence over both patient safety and patient satisfaction. They can also help reduce medical liability and promote good patient outcomes.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of claims in a physician’s office is related to communication, patients’ unhappiness with physician-patient interaction, and access, care or treatment that does not meet expectations. Many lawyers will tell you that happy patients do not sue their doctors. Office staff plays an integral part in the patient’s experience and feelings toward the physician. Thus, the value of communication and follow-through are extremely important for staff to understand and practice.
In 2009, a review of closed professional liability claims data showed that 52% of all paid medical malpractice claims involved events in the outpatient setting, and two-thirds were claims involving major injury or death. Over the last 10 years, some of the most widely documented ambulatory medical errors fall into six categories:
Medication: prescriptions for incorrect drugs or incorrect dosages
Diagnostic: missed, delayed and wrong diagnosis
Laboratory: missed and delayed tests, errors in follow-up on results with patients
Clinical knowledge: lack of knowledge, skill and general performance on the part of clinicians
Communication: miscommunication from doctor to patient, doctor to doctor or in the office
Administrative: errors in scheduling appointments and managing patient records
Aside from clinical knowledge, five of the six categories pertain to errors usually caused by insufficient or poorly performing office systems. Historically, risk management education has targeted physicians and hospital staff, but the importance of educating medical office staff has recently been brought to the forefront. A risk management education program created specifically for medical office staff that covers key areas like informed consent, medication management, effective office communication, patient education, tracking and recall, and medical record management can promote and improve patient satisfaction, reduce liability and improve patient outcomes. Each staff member should recognize that they have a significant role in preventing error and, just as in any other corporate setting, everyone should think of themselves as a risk manager.