Medicolegal experts can do more for you than you might think. They aren’t just there for emergencies—they should be regular points of contact whenever you have a question about patient complaints, or, better yet, the potential for a patient complaint.
Here are just two common scenarios where the advice of a medicolegal expert could be integral to a positive outcome for both you and your patients.
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Disclosing information (or not)
“At the end of a long shift, you are finalising some paperwork. You get an unexpected call forwarded through to you from the front desk, and when you pick up you are greeted by the voice of a police officer. She is requesting access to the healthcare records of one of your patients. What do you do?”
The vast majority of the time, medical records are for your eyes and your patient’s eyes only—and any other healthcare professional they may engage with. But rarely, you may find that a government body, such as the Police, ask you for access.
This can be an alarming situation for a doctor to be in. If you refuse, you can get in trouble with the government. If you accept, but the agency doesn’t actually have the right to that information, then you can get in medicolegal trouble for breaching privacy.
That’s where a medicolegal expert can help. Rather than needing to become a lawyer in your spare time to figure out your and your patient’s rights, you can simply call your advisors and let them use their expertise to find the right way forward. We have an example of this exact scenario in one of our recent case studies.
If you aren’t sure, get in touch with a medicolegal expert and avoid the catch-22 of patient confidentiality troubles.
Creating, storing and sharing medical records
“On your way to see your next patient, you see a stack of papers in the fax machine. Thinking to be helpful, you check through them to see who they need to go to. To your dismay, you see that many of these papers are patient records, which contain significant amounts of confidential data. You begin to feel aghast, before you realise that you yourself have likely had this happen with your faxed patient records as well—you just didn’t know about it. You start thinking about the potential trouble this could cause, and about all the other potential medical record issues that have slipped under your nose…”
Under the Health Information Privacy Code 1994, you are required to keep health records for at least 10 years from the last date of treatment or care. That’s a long time during which medical records need to be kept safe—and while it has become easier with the advent of digital patient record sharing, there are still avenues for breaches.
While there have been no major reports of successful attempts to “hack” into digital medical records directly in New Zealand, there have been plenty of instances where a doctor or hospital staff member has left information lying around that could create a privacy breach. This could take the form of being careless with one’s password, or even leaving a medical computer unlocked while they pop to the loo.
If you are concerned about a potential breach, or want to get more general advice on the creation, storage and disposal of medical records, your medicolegal advisor can step in to let you know your obligations, and provide recommended processes that will help you keep to them.
These are just a few of the ways that medicolegal advisors can help you—and there are many more. For more information on what the right medical indemnity insurer can do for you, download our free ebook.