Owning a medical practice is hard work. From patient care, to overseeing staff, to complying with healthcare laws, you have got your share of challenges every day. If the first three items are not difficult enough to manage, throw a pandemic in the mix affecting your life, your staff, your patients, and your livelihood in the mix. Healthcare law is complex and always evolving. And it informs everything you do.
You surely consulted with a healthcare attorney when you formed your practice. And, you may have periodically turned to an attorney when you had questions requiring specific expertise in a practice related matter. You may have even scrambled to untangle a situation that may have unintentionally gone awry – hopefully not, but, at the very least, infrequently. But what about your day-to-day operations? These days, even they can have legal ramifications.
Without a doubt, the healthcare landscape has changed dramatically, and so have the legal needs of the industry. Even if you are a solo practitioner, an ad hoc legal approach may no longer serve your best interests. In fact, your medical practice cannot afford to operate in a vacuum.
“After-the-Fact-Legal” No Longer
Integrating a continuous and more proactive legal process into your practice can provide tremendous risk protection. The time has passed when legal gets called in after-the-fact. Now you must get skilled counsel involved early in every discussion relating to your practice.
The thought of hiring a full-time general counsel to ensure best practices may make your head spin. But consider retaining an outside advisor to serve as your general counsel. It’s an alternative that may seem more palatable. This fractional general counsel, to borrow a term from other industry sectors, can provide continuous legal advisement but without the costs, responsibilities and benefits attached to an in-house general counsel. Beyond dollars, you save time. Plus, no more being under the gun with time constraints and having to research and retain an attorney on a piecemeal basis for different one-time occurrences.
Institutional Memory Builds a Relationship
An outside advisor, or consigliere, who works with you and your medical practice regularly gets to know and understand your goals, challenges, strengths, and Achilles heels. Establishing this familiarity creates a solid institutional memory, which results in faster situation analysis and decision-making and puts you on a path to an outcome that is reasoned and right the first time around.
Gone are the days when general counsel were exclusively on hand to review and draft contracts and other important documents. Especially in the highly regulated healthcare industry, outside general counsel provides business counseling and advisement on strategic planning, negotiates deals with third parties, and is oftentimes the liaison with legislators to inform policy. Great general counsel are leaders and communicators who evaluate each situation with the objectivity that enables them to ask the tough questions that your subjectivity may prevent you from asking. They are connectors to peers and associates with specialized skills in this sophisticated practice area. They remain continually abreast of the changes in healthcare laws and measure the unique needs and goals of your practice against the larger context of the highly regulated healthcare landscape.
Compliance: The Watchdog of Every Move You Make
It is nearly impossible to overstate the complexity of healthcare compliance.It is somewhat of a moving target as the landscape changes from volume-based to value-based medicine and health consumers are developing more of a voice. Plus,each state has its own healthcare rules and laws. Some parallel federal laws, while others are completely different. You are required to simultaneously comply with both sets of laws and regulations and identify all the laws and regulations that apply to your specific organization. That is a formidable task when your mission is to help and heal patients.
As a solo practitioner, you may not need an extensive compliance department, but you will need a compliance program just the same. In most instances, smaller medical practices are held to the same high standards as larger ones. HIPAA and OSHA, Anti-Harassment & Anti-Discrimination, and Stark & Anti-Kickback are just a few examples of why even the smallest medical practice faces the same risks as larger ones in the event of deficiencies.
The wraparound effect of compliance and healthcare law in general impacts practically every practice decision and action you take. One unintentional misstep, and you could be in hot water. Consider the intricacies of the issues you face daily in several areas:
A Dynamic Landscape
The demands imposed upon healthcare providers are intensifying. As a provider you join the mega providers like hospitals and health systems in a need to re-envision patient care and pursue new channels to provide it. Amid this environment, the law also changes rapidly, and healthcare lawyers are required to address new expectations in terms of the breadth of expertise they bring to health care professionals.
One last thought. Not all healthcare attorneys are created equal. Research and interview carefully to find the professional that meshes well with your practice and aligns with your values. Find someone who melds well with you and your practice administrators, personalizes their approach, and makes your challenges their one. Select a consigliere whospecializes in healthcare, business, and employment law. But do consider the outside general counsel option to adhere to healthcare regulations and laws and to follow best practices. Then go out and do what you do best: serve patients and build your practice.
At The Nan Gallagher Law Group we are committed to helping you develop your practice by providing the guidance to navigate all the intricacies of the legal healthcare environment. Call us at 973.998.8494 and explore advisement and collaboration that will enable you to operate with maximum efficiency, provide your patients with quality care, and grow a thriving practice.