Current threats to physician assets

March 26, 2019

Current events once again illustrate the wide range of legal and physical threats to physicians' assets. 

Current events once again illustrate the wide range of legal and physical threats physicians must be aware of and implement asset protection and risk management strategies against. 

Increased risk with high-profile patients

High-profile patients like celebrities and entertainers require additional care both inside and outside the scope of the exam room itself. We’ve previously addressed some of these risks and the increased supervision and compliance required, but the Jussie Smollett case is a timely reminder that “infamous” patients create the same risks that merely “famous” one do. 

According to reports from NBC Chicago, at least 50 hospital employees were fired for violating HIPAA laws and accessing Smollet’s information after he was taken to the hospital following an alleged attack. This violation and invasion of privacy is commonplace and often comes to light in celebrity cases when the information gets leaked on social media or sold to various media outlets. Regardless of why the information is accessed or where it ends up, the results can include civil and criminal penalties, loss of employment, lawsuits, and reputational damage that can cost you a career or a practice. Finally, be insured against this risk with at least seven figures in data breach and cyber liability insurance that covers both an external records breach (like getting hacked) and the internal liability of an employee misusing patient info. 

It’s almost Tax Day, beware of scams and fraud

I recently reviewed some specific tax-related risks and scams in a four-part series that started with a reminder about your liability as a tax payer for everything on your tax return, regardless of who gave you advice and what you paid for it. We  then moved on to a review of the I.R.S. “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams before covering specifics that doctors love right now like conservation easements and opportunity zones, life insurance savings plans, and captive insurance. If you have engaged in any of this planning, consider your claimed deductions carefully. It’s not that these ideas are uniformly bad, but they are often abused by planners and tax payers who are playing outside the rules, innocently or not. In addition to triggering penalties and having a claimed deduction disallowed, experts say claiming unreasonable or outsized deductions can also trigger an audit along with failing to report income, not reporting foreign accounts, and claiming unreasonably large or ineligible business expenses (a favorite with practice owners, “we expense everything!”), among other common mistakes. 

Medical practice security and safety 

Owners and operators of public facilities including medical facilities should assume they have significant liability for the safety and well being of those on their premises. We’ve covered both the passive side of premises risk as well as more active security measures like securing the premises from intruders and unauthorized entry as well as having both internal and external firearms policies (who can bring a gun into the office and who inside the office can have one). 

There have been multiple acts of violence at medical practices in the last 60 days alone, including two that were stopped by armed bystanders, one a patient and a one an employee. Unfortunately, the folks at Hacienda Healthcare in Arizona also made recent headlines again when a domestic dispute between an employee and her spouse spilled over to one of their facilities, resulting in a shooting that was stopped by their armed security guard. As active shooter incidents, including acts of domestic terrorism become more common, so must our vigilance and planning. In a future article, I will cover the rapidly evolving area of active shooter insurance that I now ask all clients, including those that own apartment buildings, hotels, shopping centers, and other commercial real estate, to explore. 

As we have discussed, medical practices and their owners face many business, legal, and physical safety risks beyond medical malpractice. We will continue to monitor these risks and the solutions you must know about and implement as they evolve. 

Attorney Ike Devji has practiced in the areas of asset protection, risk management, and wealth preservation law exclusively for the last 15 years. He helps protect a national client base with over $5 billion in personal assets that includes several thousand physicians and is a contributing author to multiple books for physicians and a frequent medical conference speaker and CME presenter.