Have you or your practice been sued by a patient before?
I have and let me just say, it was a brutal experience. This happened a while back now, when I use to own alot of physiotherapy wellness clinics. In fact, it happened to me twice. And it’s something I would never wish upon anyone.
The first time I was sued was when a patient claimed to get burned from a hot pack during treatment. The second time was also another burn injury after interferential current therapy for treating pain. Crazy thing was one of the lawsuits was a lawyer who was a patient and it scared the crap out of the new grad physiotherapist we hired.
While none of us ever want to be faced with a lawsuit, the reality is, it can happen. And when you think about it, it can happen to any modality including shockwave therapy, ultrasound or laser at your clinic. It can even happen with a dysfunctional hi-low table - so stay away from buying cheap beds, and cheap equipment for that matter, please do!!! It's just not worth the lawsuits.
Let’s talk about some of the things you need to be aware of and how to protect yourself as best you can, including:
- Two things you need to get patient consent for
- Two types of insurance you absolutely need
- How to comply with regulatory obligations
- Two steps to protect yourself through informed consent
Two things you need to get patient consent for
#1: Email consent
With CASL being introduced in Canada in 2014, you can face expensive lawsuits up to $10M for not obtaining email consent from your patients.
It’s absolutely essential to follow the no spam laws to avoid litigation.
#2: Informed consent for treatment
It goes without saying that your new patient forms must contain your disclaimers and you need to get patients to sign off on it, especially if you sell products to accelerate the patient’s recovery. Even if you are just selling a $2 theraband, you need to let them know you have a financial interest on certain products.
Also if you use support personnel (eg: kinesiologist or PTA) who help you deliver care, patients need to be aware and informed.
Two types of insurance you absolutely need
1) Professional Liability (malpractice insurance)
You need it for both the physiotherapist and for the clinic owner. It protects you and your clinic for any liability that arises due to injury caused by a therapist or by products and advice you give to patients.
If you have independent contractors, make sure they have their own professional liability as well.
2) Commercial Liability Insurance
As stated by the CPA:
“This insurance protects you in case of injury or property damage that you (or your business, including your staff) may cause to another person as a result of your operations and/or premises.”
It’s really to protect a patient that slips on ice or trips and hurts themselves when they are on your property, even if that’s at home, or if you damage a patient’s property while you’re doing an in-home treatment.
You can get both professional and commercial liability insurance through the Canadian Physiotherapy Association here.
It really is recommended for all therapists and clinic owners to have valid insurance at all times.
How to comply with regulatory obligations
As a clinician or clinic owner, you absolutely MUST stay in compliance with regulatory obligations or you risk putting your clients at harm or losing your entire clinic to liability.
College Of Physical Therapist regulations outline You MUST:
- Provide evidence that the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that equipment is safe for patient use
- Maintain and calibrate according to manufacturer recommendations
- Ensure appropriate infection control procedures are in place
- Maintain a written record of all repair and maintenance services
- Work in accordance with regulation
It is highly recommended you get your equipment calibrated annually. And absolutely critical that you fix any machines or equipment that needs repair.
Don't try to save hundreds of dollars to risk thousands of dollars or risk your license to treat! It is just not worth the risk.
Use CSC’s Maintenance Service - a new service we’re providing to ensure you stay compliant and keep patients safe.
Take IFC, ultrasound machines, or shockwave machine as an example. You need to make sure these are operational and calibrated regularly to ensure you provide your patients safe treatment and the best outcomes.
And don’t forget physiotherapy tables, your patients are using these every single day so if they need repairs, don’t delay - it could cost you big!
Don’t risk landing your clinic in liability!
The college regulations state:
“Even if you do not have direct control over the maintenance of equipment, for example, your employer is responsible; you are expected to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the equipment.”
Book your equipment in for regular scheduled repairs and calibrations and keep a record and you’ll never find yourself in trouble.
Two steps to protect yourself through informed consent
As mentioned above, you need to get informed consent from patients for email communications and treatments.
Step 1: Update your new patient forms so you get consent for email
Make sure you get email consent before you send out any email communications. This is your legal obligation. You simply can't afford the $10M lawsuits for business!
You can find all the rules myths and facts about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation here.
The best way to gain patients consent is to provide a checkbox on their new patient form. By checking it off on the forms, they give their consent to be contacting via email.
If they ask why, tell them it’s so you can send them appointment reminders and notify them of any changes. And so their therapist can contact them regarding their treatment or send them their exercise programs.
Step 2: Get informed consent for treatment
Get all therapists in your clinic (including support personnel) to get informed consent for treatment, especially if you sell product to accelerate the patient’s recovery.
The compliance form covers all the different aspects of your delivery of care - therapy, modalities, exercise, and products. It outlines both yours and their responsibility to disclose information and outlines their acceptance of any risks and responsibilities that may come as part of their treatment. And of course, they read the compliance form and sign off on it.
Make sure you get our free patient compliance form - get consent, and protect yourself from liability!
And if you haven't done so in a while, I'd recommend you check all your equipment. Is it in need of repair? Does it need to be calibrated? When was the last time you had it checked?
To avoid those the risk of getting lawsuits, we recommend scheduled annual checks.