Best practices for risk mitigation in healthcare

Risk mitigation in healthcare starts with a cloud-based policy management system.

December 29, 2020

Article highlights

Healthcare is a high-risk, high-trust industry.

People trust healthcare workers with their lives, but humans are so fragile that things can easily go wrong. When you're delivering life-changing and life-saving medical services, your healthcare organization is exposed to a tremendous amount of risk.

If things go wrong, they can go very wrong. And not only could people lose their lives, but your hospital could be sued for millions.

This is why risk mitigation in healthcare is so important, and it's incredibly complex.

Healthcare organizations are not only responsible for providing the best possible patient care that they can, they also have to securely handle sensitive documents, protect staff from potential harm, and work to reduce the risk of litigation.

Of course, it's impossible for any healthcare organization – any organization, really – to completely eliminate risks. But effective policy management is one of the best risk mitigation strategies in healthcare you can have. It sets a standard for care, operations management, information management, and managing risk wherever it may arise.

In an organization with so many moving parts, it's vital that you cover all your bases when it comes to policies and procedures. In an industry that regularly deals with life-and-death situations, policy management is crucial.

Having your policies and procedures spelled out in detail, and making them all accessible to your staff, could make a world of difference in mitigating risk and protecting your patients, staff, and organization.

Effective policy and process management in healthcare are more than just preventing harm and reducing risk. Providing clear policies that your employees can comply with also helps them professionally, and to better serve the patients they work with.

If you're still working from outdated policies and procedures, storing your information in binders and hard drives scattered throughout the operation, and using paper and spreadsheets, there are a few things to consider to help you mitigate risk in your healthcare organization.

In this article, we'll discuss the consequences of poor policy management and share a few best practices we've seen for developing risk mitigation strategies in healthcare.

Consequences of poor policy management

Poor policy management doesn't always have to mean a complete lack of a policy manual or failing to upgrade and update it for several years. Even with the best of intentions, it's possible to have scattered policy manuals around your healthcare facility, with differing policies contradicting each other, outdated policies being used to make healthcare decisions, and not providing regular training for your employees.

There are several consequences to poor policy management that could have serious consequences for your organization. Those can include:

Failure to achieve or maintain accreditation. This can be a horrible outcome of poor policy management. You don't know what the latest accreditation standards are, you miss critical updates, or you simply fail to pass the inspection because of poor policy management. Loss of accreditation could mean a loss of licensing for staff, and could even have a serious impact on your organization's revenue and reputation.

Direct impacts to patient health, confidentiality, etc. There are policies and procedures that affect patient care and even records storage, and not following them could violate a number of different patient privacy regulations. Keeping up with the latest in technology, as well as using the latest technology for securing patient health records, are some powerful risk mitigation strategies and can go a long way in protecting you.

Lawsuits, fines, and penalties. We live in a litigious society, and it's getting to the point that many malpractice insurers are hesitant to work in certain states or with certain types of healthcare providers. Strong policy management can put your insurance provider at ease and help you keep your liability insurance, or even to lower the costs. They're big fans of mitigating risk in healthcare of any kind, and some insurance providers may even have additional recommendations to help you achieve it.

Best practices for risk mitigation in healthcare

There are a few things your organization can do to reduce risks and mortality, and it starts with your policy management efforts.

Track and incorporate evolving industry standards

Healthcare practices are always changing, always advancing. There's new research, new technology, new medicine, new tools, and new procedures.

While your doctors and nurses are keeping up with the latest in medical advances, there are advances in healthcare management, HR management, and IT management, not to mention the different regulations and rules being created at the federal, state, and even local levels.

In a busy organization like yours, it's easy to let policy reviews fall by the wayside, but you should see all these changes and improvements as a motivator to revise and rewrite policies, not a distraction from it.

Besides, using older policies can be risky, as healthcare laws and best practices change every day, thanks to new research. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “With the expanding role of healthcare technologies, increased cybersecurity concerns, the fast pace of medical science, and the industry’s ever-changing regulatory, legal, political, and reimbursement climate, healthcare risk management has become more complex over time."

There are so many advancements in the industry that you can't ignore everything that’s changing. According to the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management, "healthcare risk managers must adapt and be proactive in developing and implementing initiatives that enhance organizational performance and productivity while improving patient outcomes."

This principle should apply to your policies, too.

In a high-risk environment like healthcare, it’s especially important to be willing to revise and update old processes and policies. This will help you meet industry standards and, as a result, save lives and improve patient health.

The University of Scranton recommends following directives from governing organizations such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) to ensure compliance.

Regularly update policies to meet industry standards and address risks

One of the most important risk mitigation strategies in healthcare is making sure your policies are up to date. And the best way to ensure that will be finished is if you actually schedule updates on your calendar.

Set times to regularly review all your policies to ensure they meet accreditation and industry standards, as well as areas of risk. Your compliance, HR, or risk managers can help anticipate some common risks as well. And since they're keeping up with their own fields, they can notify you if something new is starting to happen.

Your organization should also encourage open communication among staff to help identify problem areas and to ensure the proper accountability measures are in place. This should include things like retaining, archiving, and disposing of patient records, preventing falls and accidents, and ensuring accurate billing.

When you do update your policies, you should ask the people who directly manage these areas for their ideas and suggestions, rather than trying to create policies "for their benefit." They know how their department and job work and are the best sources for that kind of information.

Since some types of risk will differ from organization to organization, and region to region, your healthcare center should actively adjust your own policies to meet your organization's specific needs.

Take your policies online

Changing the storage and distribution method of your policy documents is a critical practice in mitigating risk in healthcare.

For one thing, it makes them all accessible by any staff member – anytime, anywhere. Since many of your staff members don't have traditional offices, there's no way they can store a binder, let alone find time to review it. 

But with a cloud-based storage system, they can use a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone to access the necessary policies that will keep them in compliance with important regulations.

Cloud storage can also save time that might have otherwise been wasted leafing through a binder or rifling through a filing cabinet to find the right policy.

In addition to making access and distribution easier, online policy storage has a number of other benefits.

There are many other helpful features in cloud-based policy management software that could affect risk mitigation in your organization, like training, testing, audit trails, and document control.

Train and test your employees on their understanding of policies

To actually reduce risk, you have to be able to show that you have taken the steps to inform and train your employees about your policies.

Implementing a training program will help get everyone on the same page. If you want to be cost-effective and save time, consider bringing your training online. With a training management software like PowerDMS, you can train and educate your employees about your policies anytime, anywhere, at their pace.

You should also test your employees' knowledge of your policies by creating customizable testing. Testing everyone in your organization ensures they all know how to apply your policies when it matters the most. It also keeps electronic records of these tests, which can be helpful in terms of accreditation and/or litigation.

Keep detailed records of policy distribution and sign-offs

You'll also want to be able to keep track of your policy updates and distribution. Being able to show an audit trail can shield you from accusations of negligence: If you can show that you've updated the policies, shared them with your staff, and collected all of their signatures, that hardly looks like negligence, does it?

After all, having great policies won't do much good for your organization if you can't show that they've been read, understood, and tested. Being able to document when employees read new or revised policies can help protect against negligence claims.

Unlike stacks of paper documents, cloud-based policy manuals allow you to view these records. These signatures could provide crucial evidence in litigation situations.

Maintain policy consistency

You can run into problems with inconsistencies and contradictions if you can't keep your policies centrally located and shared among your staff. Keeping policies stored in different paper binders leads to policies being out-of-date, contradictory, and hidden from staff who need to see them.

Employees in different locations referring to different versions of the same policy can lead to variations in practice standards, which puts the organization at risk of malpractice. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to prevent this.

This is where cloud-based policy management becomes one of the smarter risk mitigation strategies in healthcare:

  • A centralized, cloud-based system ensures that everyone has access to only the most recent version of a policy – a "single source of truth" as it were.
  • It also allows administrators to archive older versions, in case a claim arises from before the changes took effect.
  • Distribution of new policies becomes paperless, which can save you on thousands of dollars in printing and storage costs every year.

The benefits of effective and clear policies

Your policies define your organization and guide your staff in their daily tasks, and the way they care for patients, handle medicine, manage patient records, deal with personnel issues, and even cover who is responsible for which issue.

Whether you're rewriting your policies or taking your current policies online, being more vigilant and deliberate about your policy management will only benefit you down the road.

All healthcare involves some level of risk, but good policy management can mitigate those risks and protect your patients, your staff, and your entire organization.

By knowing the consequences of poor policy management and embracing the best practices of healthcare management, you can make a difference to your patients. It starts with tracking industry standards, updating policies to meet those standards, moving your policies online to a centralized cloud-storage system, testing your staff on the policies, and keeping track of your policies' history as well as your staff’s training and testing efforts.

PowerDMS has been helping healthcare services and other industries with policy management since 2001. If you would like to learn more, please visit our website for a free demo.

Or you can visit our Guide to healthcare policy and procedure management to learn more about issues surrounding policies and procedures in healthcare.

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