Thursday, March 01, 2012

Can Medical Assistants Be Sued?

Laws that Govern Medical Assistants

Many working medical assistants are under the impression that when there are no specific laws and organizations that govern them then there are no liabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is NOT TRUE that Medical Assistants cannot be sued and held legally responsible for their actions!

The Tex Med Website has put it so well where they state: the term “medical assistant” has no real legal significance. Medical assistants (MAs) are not licensed, certified, or registered by any agency of the State of Texas, nor are they recognized under federal Medicare or Medicaid laws as a species of “provider.” There is no reference to medical assistants in the Medical Practice Act, or any other Texas Statute, thus, there is no specific legal regulation of medical assistants in Texas.

The same applies to many other US States, however, it doesn't mean total absence of laws and regulations for medical assistants. Fact is...

Medical Assistants Can, Have and Will Be Sued If They Cause Harm

It cannot be said often enough: although medical assistants are dependent hires working under the employ and direct supervision of the physician, or supervised by a licensed practitioner, or clinician, it does not exonerate them from direct liability, nor protect them from being sued, should anything that causes injury or losses happen to a patient--and not only injury, but any medical assistant who inadvertently oversteps their bounds and scope of practice, e.g. writes and signs a prescription, instead of the doctor, or carries out a full range of physical therapy modalities, which will constitute practicing medicine without a license, to name just one of many possible scenarios, exposes her/himself to a civil fine of at least $10,000 per violation and almost always other severe charges, penalties and consequences.

Many medical assistants falsely believe that if there are no specific laws that regulate the medical assistant profession where they work then there are no laws to be followed.

Most state laws don't specify exactly which duties medical assistants can perform, but anything they do that goes above and beyond basic low level tasks which can be delegated, such as taking patient vital signs, can be questioned in court, should a lawsuit ensue. If a medical assistant makes an error, typically the lawsuit will be filed against the doctor under whom the medical assistant works, however, the medical assistant can also be named in the suit. Listen in as Gerry Oginski, an experienced medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury lawyer in and around the New York City vicinity explains.
What does this mean for medical assistants?

It means to always be sure to practice only skills that you have been taught and are clearly within your discipline's scope of practice. Never act on your own without a doctor physically present in the office when providing any type of direct patient health and medical care procedures. Don't independently give any kind of medical advice, don't ever share confidential patient information with other parties unless a valid need to know exists and never venture into territory that can be viewed as "practicing medicine without a license".

More at Medical Assistant NET website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is very difficult for an experienced MA to stay away from "practicing medicine without a license". Realistically, it is almost impossible never to give advice or make a clinical judgement. In fact, the MA is often the provider's right hand and is of little use to him/her if all she can do is room patients or follow orders. However, I think that one critical part is to document everything and always ask the doctor to cosign any tasks that may look like the practice of medicine. It is also good to establish and use protocols (e.g.: ok to refill thyroid med every 6 months if stable). If MAs could be licensed, things may be clearer and they wouldn't constantly have to fight for the right to apply their knowledge or prove their professional integrity. It gets old. I can't think of another profession that has to constantly explain its role and qualifications and still be scrutinized by outsiders. These concerns rarely come from the employing provider or patients.