Unless you are in a solo practice, there will be a
number of staff involved in running the business and delivering healthcare.
Sound systems and processes support the safety and efficiency, so any gaps or failures in processes can have serious implications for the doctor.
Avant received 2,443
calls from practices in 2018 and many more from doctors seeking advice on
situations involving practice staff. Situations such as the one below show how
simple mistakes can lead to serious harm and legal action.
Patient identity confusion
A 62-year-old male patient was called from
the waiting room using his first name only. The GP opened the patient’s
electronic file and made notes about the patient’s reason for attendance. A chest
infection was diagnosed and antibiotics prescribed, noting no known allergies or
After the patient arrived with a prescription
at the pharmacy, the pharmacist phoned the GP to inform him the patient was
allergic to the prescribed antibiotic and his address and contact details were
Upon investigation, it was discovered the
incorrect patient had been entered into the electronic appointment system by
reception staff when the appointment was booked. The GP had then opened the
patient file from the appointment schedule.
The patient had not been adequately
identified by staff at any stage throughout their visit to the practice. The GP
also has a responsibility to ensure they are consulting with the correct
patient and failed to confirm the patient’s full name. Thankfully, the error
was picked up before any harm was done, but the outcome could have been
significantly different both for the patient and the practice.
Having sufficiently robust processes in
place which are followed by all practice staff is essential.
- Policies and procedures
need to be easily accessible and
searchable online to ensure all staff are aware. In the above
situation, having a policy in place which requires identification of patients using
one of three approved patient identifiers, would have helped. Under the RACGP’s
Standards for general
practices (5th edition), items of information that are accepted for use to
identify a patients include:
- Family name and given names
- Date of birth
- Gender (as identified by the patient)
- Patient health record number, where it exists
- Individual Healthcare Identifier
- Have a streamlined and efficient induction process to make on-boarding
new staff simple and consistent. Induction
protocols with training and accountability sign-off ensure staff treat the
staff understanding on a regular basis using comprehensive training modules in areas
such as patient health records, and privacy and confidentiality.
Despite policies and procedures being in place, errors can still occur. Instilling a protocol in which the reception staff check the identity of all patients on arrival, not only makes the patient feel welcome, but provides an opportunity to confirm the correct patient has been selected.
Support team members
have an important role to play in delivering safe healthcare. Training and
compliance currency need to be prioritised so they know they are doing things
Errors made by
support staff can contribute to poor patient outcomes and complaints or legal actions
against the practice. Staff actions may not be covered under the doctor’s personal
indemnity insurance, which is one of the
reasons why the practice entity requires practice medical indemnity cover.
– making running a practice simpler, safer
and more efficient.
Find out how PracticeHub, an
integrated online practice management program, can streamline your business’s
operations. Book a
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for your practice
Protect your medical practice and staff with Avant Practice Medical Indemnity Insurance.* Find out more
require advice, visit our website or email our Medico-legal Advisory Service (MLAS) at: email@example.com or call 1800 128 268 for expert advice, 24/7 in
*IMPORTANT: The Practice Medical Indemnity Policy is issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. This policy is available at www.avant.org.au or by contacting us on 1800 128 268. Practices need to consider other forms of insurance including directors’ and officers’ liability, public and products liability, property and business interruption insurance, and workers compensation.