Law And Health Professional

The law as it relates to health care has grown increasingly complex in the past decade. The agendas of federal and state governments include an investigation of quality health care, a desire to control health care costs (while hoping to assure equitable access to health care), and an interest in protecting the patient. A full discussion of health law requires several volumes; therefore, only the laws designated to protect the patient will be identified in this chapter, and emphasis will be placed on the ambulatory care setting.

For example, at the ambulatory care center of Doctors Lewis and King, a two-doctor family physician office, Dr. Lewis and Dr. King are especially careful about establishing stringent risk management procedures to protect patients from harm and the practice from potential liability. Dr. King has worked with office manager Marilyn Johnson, CMA to assemble a policy and procedures manual outlining everything from how telephone calls are answered to how patient medical records are documented and stored. Marilyn, in turn, seeks the input of the other administrative and clinical medical assistants as she frequently updates the manual. To ensure that they are providing the best care for patients while protecting themselves, four times a year the entire staff meets to review office policies, changing them as necessary or incorporating new procedures to meet new situations or legal mandates.

Being aware of the law and its implications and establishing sound practices and procedures will both safeguard patient rights and protect the health care professional.The most frequent law exercised in the ambulatory care setting is civil law, or law as it is related to individuals. Restitution awarded when a civil wrong is committed is usually monetary in nature. Criminal law addresses wrongs committed against the welfare and safety of society as a whole and punishment is usually imprisonment or a fine.

If a charge is brought against a physician as the defendant in a civil case, the goal is to reimburse the plaintiff, the person bringing charges (usually a patient), a monetary amount for suffering, pain, and any loss of wages. For example, a physician who has caused harm to a patient in the course of treatment may be sued in a civil case by the patient for the recovery of time lost from work as well as the pain and suffering that was the result of treatment.In a criminal case, charges are brought against the defendant by the state with the intent of preventing any further harm to society. For example, a physician practicing medicine without a proper license may be subject to disciplinary action from a professional association and criminal action by the courts.