Back to School: 8 Ways to Limit Risk When Volunteering for Student Physicals

By: Jason Newton
3 Minute Read

It’s officially back-to-school season, and while students stock up on marbled notebooks and prepare to take on the rival high school football team, physicians across the country are offering their services to promote health and safety with free physical examinations. Whether driven by a desire to contribute to the local school district or a need to promote their practice to parents in the community, doctors often approach early fall as a new opportunity to provide volunteer medical services. In these situations, it’s important that physicians take the necessary precautions to reduce liability risks that could leave them vulnerable to lawsuit.

In order to protect themselves, physicians should follow these eight simple steps when providing volunteer medical examinations and care:

  1. Talk to your malpractice insurance provider. Before providing care, physicians must be sure that their malpractice insurance covers such services. Assuming the type and nature of the exams fall within the physician’s ordinary scope of practice, as a general rule, all malpractice policies should likely cover this type of activity. In addition, in certain states, there are statutes that protect practitioners when providing free medical services at community events. If the physician plans to rely on such legislation, he or she must fully comply with statute’s conditions and be aware of its limitations.
  2. Communicate the limited scope of services. In this setting, doctors must be sure to adequately communicate that they will only be providing limited services associated with the program, which likely will not include ongoing or follow-up care. A best practice would be to have the individual acknowledge this in writing. However, if the physician chooses to forego this step, he or she will need to send a termination letter. Medical Mutual customers are welcome to download our limited scope form in either English or Spanish.
  3. Receive parental consent. Assuming the student is an unemancipated minor, physicians must receive parental consent for the exam or treatment. In order to receive adequate consent, providers must supply all available information regarding the risks, benefits, and scope of services.
  4. Ensure a chaperone is involved. Whether dealing with pediatric patients of the same or opposite sex, physicians should ensure a chaperone is present for the exam.  The record created by the provider should also include the name of the chaperone and the fact that the chaperone was present throughout the duration of the interaction.
  5. Comply with applicable standard of care. Physicians should be aware that they may be judged against services provided in a regular office setting. With this in mind, doctors will need to understand associated liability risks.
  6. Appropriately document the exam and maintain records. Documenting the examination is necessary to facilitate potential follow-up care and to protect physicians if there is ever a question about services rendered. Physicians must document this interaction in the same manner as any other patient and should ensure the limited relationship form is included in the patient’s chart
  7. Assume that all HIPAA privacy and security rules apply. Physicians should always err on the side of caution when it comes to disclosing protected health information and insist on receiving written requests or HIPAA-compliant authorization before sharing any records.
  8. When in doubt – ask! Malpractice insurers are standing by ready to answer questions and address any concerns surrounding medical care. If the physician is unsure about how to proceed, contacting the experts is always the best policy.

Back to School Series: Volunteering Medical Services in Youth Sports

While many physicians donate their time to providing physical examinations to the general student population, doctors may also often serve as team physician for traveling sports organizations, requiring an entirely new set of obligations in order to maintain low risk of liability. In Part Two of our series, we’ll discuss how physicians can protect themselves and their practices from potential malpractice lawsuits when providing non-emergency medical services to sports teams that travel across state lines.

Jason Newton

Jason Newton is Curi’s Senior Vice President & Associate General Counsel, based in Raleigh, NC. Follow Jason on Twitter @jason_newton.

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