Does your healthcare practice meet these important legal obligations?

With healthcare and employment legislation frequently changing, how do you keep your policies and procedures current to ensure compliance and reduce risk to your practice?

In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common areas of legal risk for your practice and how to ensure you meet the requirements.

Improve your patient recall and follow-up processes

Lapses in your patient recall and follow-up processes may expose your practice to greater risk of claims and complaints. To improve your processes, consider these ideas:

  • With each patient visit, check you have their current contact details, and how they prefer confidential information sent to them.
  • Have a mix of recall and notification processes depending on the nature of the test results. For normal results, automated notifications are suitable and efficient, while for serious results requiring urgent follow-up, personal contact is more appropriate.
  • In the event of a practice shutdown, power outages, computer systems upgrade, or other business interruption, what is your process for maintaining continuity, data back-up and access, so patient follow-ups still occur?

Making your patient recall system more efficient and accurate is easier using an online practice management platform such as PracticeHub. The software includes policy and procedure templates – including patient recall processes. It provides an audit trail of tasks and team compliance, with a requirement they sign off on reading policies and updates. This helps ensure your practice systems remain transparent and consistent, because everyone has current information and knows what processes to follow.

How to navigate parents requesting access to their child’s records, and consent to treatment

This common occurrence is tricky for practices, especially if it arises from a dispute between the parents or when parents are separated or divorced.

A healthcare practice can refuse to provide a parent access to their child’s medical records – although the grounds for refusal are limited, including:

  • if providing access poses a serious threat to the life or safety of the patient or someone else
  • if it unreasonably impacts on the privacy of others. Particularly if there’s information about someone else in that patient’s records (often one of the parents), it’s unlawful to disclose that information
  • less common grounds for refusal are if the information is legally privileged (e.g. documents in preparation for litigation).

Patient consent should be your first consideration before giving a parent access to records – especially for teenage patients who are considered ‘mature minors’. Legally, a child in this category is considered to have the necessary capacity when he or she reaches a sufficient understanding and intelligence to be capable of making up their own mind in respect of their own treatment and consent decisions.

If you receive a Court order or subpoena requiring production of medical records you are compelled, by law, to produce the records. Should a parent request a copy of the medical records of their minor child, you would not generally need the consent of both parents before releasing the records, but that could be modified by a Court order. It would be wise to ask the parent/s whether a Court order exists in relation to the disclosure of the medical records of a minor.

If you’re in doubt, call your practice indemnity insurer or Medical Defence Organisation (MDO) for medico-legal advice and how to proceed.

Review your COVID-safe policies so they meet any mandates 

Staying informed on your state’s COVID-safe practices and mandates is an important legal obligation. It’s also important to have policies that meet these mandates around face masks, physical distancing and vaccinations, to keep your staff and patients safe.

As well as satisfying any public health order requirements, your practice may choose to require staff and visitors to be fully vaccinated or to wear a mask as a condition of entry. 

The decision is yours, but you do need firm policies around it and ensure that, where vaccination is not a requirement under public health order requirements, such policies are implemented in compliance with applicable consultation requirements under work health and safety laws, so your staff and patients understand your practice’s expectations and to avoid challenges to the validity of your policies.

Ensure your casual employment contracts meet recent legislative changes 

Changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Fair Work Act) in March 2021 around the definition of casual employment may mean that your practice’s casual employment contracts need updating. A person is a casual employee if they are offered and accept an offer of employment on the basis that the employer makes no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work.

To protect your practice from claims for unpaid leave entitlements or other benefits of permanent employment, it’s important to review your new and existing casual employment contracts to ensure you’re paying the current applicable award rates (inclusive of casual loading) and that the terms of your casual employment contracts accord with the new statutory definition of casual employment.

The Fair Work Act also now requires you to give casual employees a Casual Employment Information Statement an additional document to the Fair Work Information Statement you’d be used to giving all new starters.

As part of the recent casual employment legislation amendments, an employer (other than a small business employer with fewer than 15 employees) is now also obligated to assess casuals for eligibility to convert to permanent employment if they have been employed for 12 months, working a regular pattern of hours for at least the last 6 months and could continue working these hours full-time or part-time without significant changes. There is also a ‘residual right’ for an eligible casual employee to request conversion (including casual employees of a small business employer with fewer than 15 employees). There are some exceptions to this, including that you have ‘reasonable grounds’ not to offer, or to refuse, conversion, as outlined in the legislation.

It’s important to document the steps you’ve taken to assess and offer casual conversion to permanent employment, and your processes for reviewing contracts. PracticeHub makes documenting the process and setting reminders to review work arrangements quick and easy, with centralised access as well. You can also link to the relevant modern awards, so your information is always current and available, as needed, to your whole team.

Our recent webinar, Navigating today’s practice legalities has more tips on meeting your legal obligations.

PracticeHub’s onboard policy templates makes it easy to meet your legal obligations and provide safer patient care. To find out more, visit the PracticeHub website or the Avant Law website.

This article is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on its content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this article must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2023.

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