Top 4 Burning Questions Doctors Ask Health Lawyers

Top 4 Burning Questions Doctors Ask Health Lawyers

Being a settlement attorney for physicians is never boring because the more regulations, guidelines, and laws change, the more questions everyone has. But it’s not just about getting a question answered and being compliant. Physicians feel too burned out and out of control, and the risks facing their practice are real. This contributes to burnout and apathy, as it is difficult enough to keep up with the changing landscape of clinical medicine. Now you need to become a finance, employment and legal whiz? It’s a lot.

So, as a health advocate who has been doing this for over twenty years, I wanted to give you the top four questions I hear and how I can help you with those areas.

The first and most important area concerns contract negotiations. Do I really have leeway to negotiate this deal? Can I escape non-competition clauses and other onerous clauses? Am I just a pawn in the system or do I have real leverage?

My answer is simple: you absolutely have the ability to negotiate. But you have to find your lever. Always think like your employer and try to find a way to set yourself apart from your peers and use that leverage to your advantage. And remember – some things have state-specific rules of law (like non-competition), so have an attorney review it before you sign. Once the ink dries and you’ve signed the deal, there’s no turning back. But please, whatever you do, make sure there is a backdoor to the deal without too many strings attached. You must be able to quit any job with a certain amount of notice.

The second area I get asked all the time is how, with all the regulations in place, can a doctor feel safe in the world of compliance. I get it — between billing and coding, privacy laws, and Medicare regulations — there’s a lot to follow. My biggest tip is to form a compliance plan. It’s required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but many doctors still don’t have a solid compliance plan. Make sure it contains the seven items required by the Office of Inspector General and actually use it! Encourage your staff to report problems as they see them rather than being afraid they’ll get in trouble. Assign compliance duties to a staff member and provide them with the necessary resources to track moving targets and at least issue occasional warning signals that you can locate. Education is the key.

Then, I am always questioned on questions of labor law. Find out if you should hire key personnel as a contractor rather than an employee, and have a basic employment handbook that outlines the rules of your practice. Don’t let employee problems fester and grow into thinking they’ll fix themselves. Listen to your staff and if there is a problem, see if you can resolve it early and quickly before it gets out of control. And make sure you have a non-retaliation policy so that if someone reports something in good faith, they won’t be punished. And think about whether you want someone to be an at-will employee where they can be fired at any time and whether you want them to be bound by an employment contract.

Although this law has been around for over two decades, I receive HIPAA questions daily. Yes, people still do not know what documents can be released and to whom. What if someone dies? What about sanity scores? This really is one area where it helps to have a quick call with your attorney. But the basics can be done within the walls of your practice. Instead of signing up for worthless training, you force your staff to take their break to tick a box, bring in a really solid speaker every few years, and really educate yourself on that. And remember – it’s not just privacy that’s an issue, but security. Do you perform strong security audits? Do you even know if your data is properly backed up in the event of a cyberattack? And please monitor the sharing of protected health information by phone, general mail, and text.

Healthcare is very complex and it often takes a team of people to help you navigate the waters. But you’ll likely ask your attorney fewer questions by understanding that you have a say in contract negotiations, developing a compliance plan, thinking about your employee relations, and becoming familiar with HIPAA. And this, in the end, will save you money and allow you to focus more on treating patients.

Amanda Hill is a health care lawyer.

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