Monday, May 31, 2004

Written procedures as defense
With Jim Walsh

Q. I am told by my lawyer and educational speakers that having written procedures for patient care and personnel matters is necessary to avoid lawsuits, damage awards and lots of other bad stuff. How can that be true when both employees and patients (and their attorneys) just take whatever is written and use it against you?

A. I agree that documentation can be a two-edged sword. If a written policy is established, it must be followed. To do less is to admit an issue exists and then ignore it, which could constitute negligence. If the homecare provider must defend itself in court, adequate records can help prove that appropriate policies and procedures were followed. However, if the established policies and procedures are not being followed and documented as written, the provider could have a hard time defending its position. In short, if you’re not going to follow your own procedures your probably better off not having them.

Some of the advantages of documentation are:

- Unlike your memory, documents do not fade.

- Documents do not become bitter or develop an axe to grind as may happen to an employee who leaves the company after the relevant events.

- Documents are often perceived by a judge as more credible than a live witness, both because they are written nearer to the time of the events and because they may be seen as less prone to reflect bias, not having been prepared in the face of litigation.

However, there are risks associated with creating contemporary documentation. While these cannot be eliminated, they can be managed and mitigated. Remember...write carefully and review what you have written before making it part of a permanent record or document. A good rule to remember is if what you have written wouldn’t make you feel good when you see it blown up on the courtroom projector screen, you should probably re-evaluate it.

Jim Walsh is the president of VGM Management. He can be reached at 319-274-6510.