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Protection Against Claims: 6 Best Practices for Physical Therapists

Posted On: January 31, 2018

Protection Against Claims: 6 Best Practices for Physical Therapists

While the physical therapy industry has typically seen minimal claims compared to other health care segments, the claims that do arise tend to be large and quite significant. And, as the industry continues to grow and the number of patients each therapist sees increases, the risk of error and the possibility of a malpractice suit grows along with it.

A claim can be a financial catastrophe for therapy clinics, especially malpractice claims, which have the potential to end careers and shutter clinic doors indefinitely. Even in less severe instances, the damage is palpable, with costs of mounting a defense or potential settlements. Therapists feel it, too, as claims can pull them away from clinics, causing a loss of income.

Below are common hazards to be aware of and understand, to help you protect your patients, your practice, and your career.

1. No Trippin’

Slips, trips, and falls are a major liability for any business (or home, really). But, especially in the physical therapy setting, patients visiting your facility are already injured or recovering post-surgery, thus increasing their risk. Ensure those already in a fragile state can move about and navigate your facility easily by carefully planning its layout. All equipment and furniture should be placed not only in convenient areas, but in areas that will not cause trips or falls. This includes training tables, strength and exercise equipment, and even the waiting area.

2. Reading Really is Good for You

Curling up with a good book is a long beloved pastime, so there’s no reason to think rehabbing with informational signage would be any different. There should be no shortage of signage in your facility.

All exercise equipment should clearly display instructions for use. Many types of equipment come with adhesive labels featuring instructions when purchased; however, if it doesn’t, create your own and post them beside the equipment in a clearly visible location.

Signage is also important for the security and privacy of the clinic. Each room or area should contain signage specifically indicating who is allowed to be there and when. Directional signage should point patients to restroom facilities and lobby areas. Note also which rooms are for “Patients Only” or “Staff Only,” and which rooms or areas should be strictly “No Children.”

3. All Tests Will Be Open Note

Proper documentation is your clinic’s best defense if a claim situation does arise in the future. Keep the lines of communication open with patients, their family members, caregivers, or health care providers, and document all interactions with them as a part of care protocols. Be sure to report any concerns, requests, and other observations, noting all relevant aspects of their condition at the start of each treatment and at intervals throughout the visit. Keep records of patient progress, any refusal or inability to take part in the recommended treatment, and all details of any injuries or other unforeseen outcomes.

4. I See You

In addition to relying on patients to communicate about their own condition, it is important to carefully watch patients throughout their entire treatment period and note any changes in their appearance or behavior that would call for an adjustment to, or cessation of treatment. This includes supervising and educating patients in the clinic regarding proper use, prior to providing any at-home treatments.

5. Stay in Your Lane

Owners of the clinic should ensure that all therapists, therapy assistants, professional staff, interns, and office employees stay within their scope of practice by educating the team and making sure they know what they are allowed and not allowed to do. Therapists should not perform any rehab techniques without the required certifications and should make sure all of their actions comply with state law. Common issues often stem from the use of treatments such ultrasound, e-stimulation, hot/cold therapy, and exercise equipment.

6. Report It Immediately

The first few days after a claim-related event can be critical to the eventual outcome. Therefore, it is vital to report any claims, as well as any incidents that could potentially result in a claim, to your insurance agent or provider as soon as possible – ideally the same day the event occurred. Not only does this ensure that you are covered by your insurance policy, but the details of the event are fresh for those involved, as well as any witnesses. It’s important to ensure that the insurance company is able to obtain the valuable information they require while it is readily available (photographic evidence, witness statements etc.).
Remember also: In stressful situations, it’s important to be supportive and helpful without admitting fault. Although you are sorry the incident happened, admitting this to the patient or any other third party may be taken as an admission of guilt.  Don’t make a promise that you or your insurance company can’t honor. 

7. No Sweat (in a good way)

Ultimately, these recommendations are about more than mitigating your risk of a claim—they’re about providing safe and effective treatment for your patient, which already comes naturally to you. And, many physical therapists go their entire professional career without a claim. However, a claim can leave a permanent scar on the reputation of a practice or the therapist involved, so it’s important to be prepared and protect your practice as best you can.


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