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Are you ignoring the risks in your practice?

Angela Mason-Lynch, Risk Adviser, Avant

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Group of women sitting down conversing

There are many things that can go wrong in the dynamic and complex environment of a medical practice. Developing and implementing risk management systems not only makes for a safer and more efficient workplace, it also helps to deliver better patient outcomes and engages staff.

There are standards in place that set a benchmark for the delivery of healthcare in Australia. They are the foundation for practices to build their systems to decrease risk in the delivery of safe and quality healthcare; they are a valuable tool even if you are not interested in applying for accreditation.

What are the standards?

There are two main sets of standards which provide best practice principles: the National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standards for public and private hospitals, private specialist practice and day procedure services, and the RACGP Standards 5th Edition for GP practices. Both standards place emphasis on clinical and business risk management.

It is important to remember that things are always changing in the healthcare landscape. So once systems are established, it’s important that risks are constantly assessed, and fresh mitigation strategies adopted and embedded into the systems.

Implementing risk management systems

To successfully implement risk management systems, it is recommended to involve the team and help them see their role in identifying and mitigating risks. The following approaches work well:

  1. Discussing risk management often and encouraging the entire team to have input
  2. Maintaining a risk register that covers:
  3. Keeping a record of meetings where risks have been identified and actions agreed upon to managing those risks.

Our Essential risk management strategies article has more tips on how to set up a risk management system.

Healthcare standards plus more

Risk management also involves ensuring compliance to the relevant legal frameworks, such as your responsibilities under Australian taxation laws, Fair Work, Medicare obligations, Work Health and Safety.

As a practice director or manager, you need to stay across the business and clinical compliance requirements which apply to your practice.

One way to ensure compliance is to keep your policies and procedures up to date and aligned with the regulations. An online practice management program like PracticeHub can make this task easier, since their policy templates are based on the standards mentioned earlier in this article. The platform also allows you to link to relevant legislations, keeping you automatically updated. The optional Ahpra database feed and Certificate of Insurance reminders help keep your practitioner compliance current.

Ways to keep your practice compliant

Implementing good policies and procedures is one thing, but you need a mechanism for regular review and development. As things change in your practice and in the wider medical environment, your processes will need to change too.

1. Regular audits

Whether conducted internally or by an external body, audits encourage reflection, accountability and improvement. Rather than trying to audit everything, focus on areas that represent the highest risk to your practice, whether that’s something with the most potential for patient harm or significant business impact. This might be something that a team member has raised as an issue.

2. Measuring poor outcomes or complaints

Often complaints or poor outcomes can provide great opportunity to review your systems and make changes to decrease re-occurring complaints or poor outcomes. It is a good strategy to involve the team in reporting complaints or errors so the relevant systems can be reviewed.

3. Policies and procedures

These are your rules for how you run your practice. They give guidance to the team and helps to ensure the right thing is done by everyone.

4. Make risk review a standing item in your staff meetings

This encourages openness and collaboration in reporting incidents and deciding on ways to improve how you manage future risks and incidents.

5. Ensure staff compliance

Once you have your policies and procedures in place, your team needs to be on board with them so they perform tasks as set out in your manual. It is good practice to have staff sign off that they’ve read and understood their role-specific tasks. Regular training can help maintain a high level of staff performance and minimise procedural risks.

Evidence that you and your team are committed to risk management and quality control can help us defend you, should a complaint be lodged.

For more insights into how risk relates to compliance and accreditation, watch the replay of our ‘Essential risk management strategies for practice owners’ webinar.

More information

Avant’s risk expertise and resources can help you create a risk management framework that best suits your practice. Find out more on the Avant website or call us on 1800 128 268.


*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.

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