Physician Insurance Risks May Come with Ancillary Products, Services

December 30, 2012

Here are five steps physicians can take to secure the benefits of ancillary products and services while minimizing the risks.

If you’re like most physicians today, you have already, or are considering adding new products or services to make your practice more financially viable - and to meet the evolving needs of your patients.

Physicians are adding products ranging from medication dispensaries to vitamins and dietary supplements to anti-aging therapies, labs, and medical spas. In a survey conducted by Nutrition Business Journal a few years ago, and as reported by Consumer Reports, more than 75 percent of physicians, chiropractors, and other practitioners sold supplements in their office. The anti-aging market - fueled in part by increased physician office sales - is expected to grow to more than $290 billion in next few years.

And this is all understandable, and theoretically great for the practice and physicians. For the practice, it brings in much needed revenue. For patients, it gives them the assurance of products and services they want (and would likely get anyway) but from their trusted physician, who (hopefully) has done his or her own review of the product before offering.

All good, right? Not so fast. The “buyer beware” adage also holds special meaning for physicians offering new products or services to their patients. In short, while offering products and services to patients brings new opportunities for increased revenue and building a strong patient base, it can also increase risks and opportunities for lawsuits.

But there are steps you can take to secure the benefits of ancillary products and services while minimizing the risks. Here is how:

1. Consider what products and approaches you believe in and support. It’s not enough to just decide to sell a product. Make sure it is one you believe in personally and that it has the clinical data or studies you respect to back up product claims. If there ever is a problem, your ability to show you did your due diligence before offering a product will be important.

2. Carefully check the vendor providing a product such as a diet aid or vitamin. If a nutritional supplement firm promises strong sales, can it also promise little downside in terms of risk? Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask:

• How long has this vendor been in business?

• Have there been lawsuits or claims against the company?

• What was the outcome?

• If there is a problem, will the company provide legal representation?

• Where is the product manufactured?

• What do other physicians say about their experience?

3. Look beyond the obvious for sources of new risk. A number of physicians are bringing on nutritionists, sports medicine specialists, even aestheticians, all of which frequently entails bringing in new equipment and products. Of course, conduct the appropriate background checks on any clinician you bring into the practice, but also thoroughly vet the equipment and products they will be using, asking many of the same questions listed above.

4. Make sure any clinician involved in patient care, whether employed by you or as an independent contractor, has full insurance coverage. Make sure your group practice also covers those services provided. Also check on the track record and insurance coverage of the equipment manufacturers used by such services’ providers.

5. Train your staff. It can’t be stressed enough that when you add any new product or service, your office staff needs to be thoroughly educated so they understand the product, recognize potential risks, and know just what to do (who to inform) if they see a potential problem. Also be sure that any ancillary providers you contract with or employ have the required certifications for the procedures they perform.

Finally, don’t start, expand, or continue a venture involving products and services sold in your practice without consulting the right experts. Remember to rely on the people who have experience and knowledge about insurance, liabilities, and risks. Start with ensuring your current broker has the expertise needed to provide the counsel and insights you need. How long have they been providing these coverages to physicians like you? How does your broker stay current with healthcare industry trends and insurance options - issues that may impact your practice?

If your broker and carrier do have the expertise needed, check to determine their opinion (perhaps they are aware of related claims) and find out how your current liability program and costs may change if you add certain products and services.

Change with the times; but manage your risks

The world of a physician's practice is changing. Physicians, especially those that want to retain their independence, will need to explore a range of options to ensure the viability of their practices.

Don’t hesitate to look into new products and services that work for you and your patients. With good due diligence and expert advice, you can avoid and minimize risks, and build a healthy, profitable practice.