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    Malpractice Insurance: Do You Have it Covered?


    Like savings tucked away for a rainy day, professional liability insurance may be something you'll never have the occasion to use, yet just knowing that it's there can give you peace of mind. Surprisingly, industry experts report that the majority of potential travelers and those who work per diem do not inquire about this privilege when shopping around for a travel company - not even during the hiring process. Why? One possibility: Permanent staff, who are covered by the facilities for which they practice, may consider this benefit a "given"and assume it will be automatically extended to them. While the majority of travel companies supply malpractice insurance to employees in the form of a standard, blanket policy - free of charge and from "day one" of their first assignments - plans and limits can vary. Given this fact, and the increasing number of policies on the market, questions about the degree of security you can anticipate have never been more valid.

    STANDARD COVERAGE Although malpractice insurance policies can differ, most travel companies pay for premiums in full with coverage that is in addition to your limits of liability. Travelers typically receive the same insurance afforded most regular staff members, although limits of liability fluctuate based on the stipulations of each individual facility. The amounts most travel companies carry as a minimum requirement - $1,000,000 per incident/$3,000,000 aggregate - are standard. Several companies may even hold extra insurance, such as a $5,000,000 aggregate or additional umbrella liability.

    While provisions can depend on each institution's specifications, the locale where a provider works has no bearing on the coverage extended. Whether you opt to take an assignment in an inner city or a rural setting, the benefits you receive as a mobile clinician are the same.

    If you're wondering what would happen to your professional liability insurance should you take breaks between contracts, rest assured. Since the bulk of travel companies cover you from the first day of employment at a facility, you are free to take time off - as often as you wish - in between assignments without risking a lapse in coverage.

    Should a claim of negligence arise, attorneys from your travel company's carrier represent and defend you. Most travel firms absorb all legal fees on the front-end through their insurance carriers so you don't have to wait for reimbursement of expenses.

    What if you're named in a lawsuit, but are no longer on assignment at the hospital where the purported incident took place? In this case, the insurance you had during the period in question covers you, whether you are still with the same travel company or not.

    PERSONAL PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY INSURANCE Considering the seriousness of liability issues, should you invest in an additional, personal policy for your own protection? By and large, you aren't required to carry your own professional liability insurance, and many company representatives maintain that there rarely is a need for this extra coverage and expense.

    Of course, if you have queries about supplemental coverage, you should explore the alternatives. Ask recruiters if they know of other clinicians who carry their own policies. Take advantage of the Internet and check out the businesses that offer personal coverage to practitioners. Some professional associations provide inexpensive group rate packages that include license protection services. This coverage could be used if you were in danger of having your license suspended - or losing it altogether - due to an administrative or disciplinary matter.

    When considering this option, keep in mind that many travel companies offer similar benefits, although the coverage may fall into different categories or be described by other terminology. For example, numerous travel agencies offer general liability protection, which covers property - like a hospital computer or piece of equipment - that is damaged.

    OFF-DUTY INCIDENTS Are there limits to professional liability coverage if you provide emergency care outside of a facility - voluntarily, in good faith, and without compensation? Since legislation can differ from one state to the next, it's prudent to become familiar with regulations for assignment destinations. As many practitioners know, a majority of states have established Good Samaritan laws allowing healthcare providers to offer their expertise, while following appropriate practice standards and using available resources, without risk of being sued. In fact, in some states, professionals may be liable if they fail to offer their assistance in a crisis!

    While it's highly unlikely that you would get dragged into court for offering to help an accident victim, you could face a malpractice lawsuit if an accusation of negligent behavior - such as turning the patient's care over to an unqualified third party - was filed. Be sure to ask company recruiters to clarify this issue. Many have similar Good Samaritan clauses in their professional liability contracts.

    ALLEGATIONS OF MALPRACTICE: A Company's Role What is the chain of events you should be aware of if you are named in a malpractice case? First, contact your travel agency representative immediately upon receiving notification of a pending suit. You are obligated to tell your recruiter about the incident in detail and to provide supporting paperwork to ensure that a complete report is sent to the carrier. Full documentation is required from the hospital or clinic, as well, and some travel firms may send their own representatives to the facility to investigate the accusation further. After a travel company has furnished its insurer with the particulars, the carrier's attorneys step in. At that time, you may be asked to give a deposition, with legal counsel deciding how to proceed in defending against the allegation. Typically, when a patient files a malpractice claim, anyone with whom he or she had contact is named in the suit. Ultimately, those healthcare professionals who aren't connected to the alleged incident are weeded out, and their names are dropped from the action.

    Regardless of your level of involvement, one thing is clear: Having the facts about coverage you can expect before committing to a contract will help you make an educated decision. When interviewing with travel companies, ask questions regarding the malpractice insurance you'll receive as one of their employees. Knowing more about the professional liability coverage that will be extended to you when you hit the road can provide a welcome level of comfort - whether you'll ever have the need to use it or not.

    Bobbi Harrison
    Bobbi Harrison is managing editor of Healthcare Traveler and Healthcare Traveler's Staffing Solutions.