Most ODs have malpractice insurance for their own work and their practice, but some don’t double-check that the associates they hire are covered by their own insurance and that the malpractice insurance purchased for the practice adequately covers the work of all staff members. Unlike car insurance, there is no law that requires practicing doctors to have malpractice insurance, but it is highly unwise to go without it. Not only does it cover (up to your maximum coverage) the cost of a suit brought against you by a winning plaintiff; it also pays for the attorney who represents you–all for what usually amounts to less than $1,000 annually. Of course, coverage may not include any punitive damages or if you are practicing outside your scope of licensure.
Concern: You have malpractice insurance and your full-time partners or associates are covered, but how about that young doctor, just out of optometry school, who you hired to work part-time a couple days a week? Many young ODs who are just doing part-time work at a practice are not insured. The young doctor who is just in her first or second year of licensure and may not be living in the same state six months from now, and is only working part-time, considers her risk of being sued so small, that she may not bother.
Safeguard: If your practice insurance does not cover the part-time doctor, it would be prudent to require the part-time doctor to have malpractice insurance for the work they do at your office, or to extend your own coverage to cover their work, as well. The best idea is for both your practice to cover the itinerant doctor and for the part-time doctor to have her own coverage. For the young doctor, who feels the risk is low and that she doesn’t have any money anyway to be sued for, it also is a good idea to get insured. A judgment can be brought against her which could require that future earnings be directed to the plaintiff.
Associate ODs: Make Sure the Practice You Are Joining Is Insured
Concern: The associate has done the responsible thing, and even though she is only working part-time at the practice, she has obtained her own malpractice insurance. But she has not checked to see whether her new boss–the practice owner–has insured his practice. If the practice is sued and the owner does not have insurance and is broke, to boot, the associate may have a problem. Plaintiffs typically go after the person or business with the deepest pockets. That may leave the associate open to taking on the doctor’s liability, or of being financially affected by the doctor’s lack of insurance–even if the suit relates to actions taken by another doctor at the practice or one of the other staff members.
Safeguard: Before accepting a position (even a part-time one) with an optometric practice, check that the doctor who owns the practice is licensed, in good standing with the state board, is not going through bankruptcy proceedings and that the doctor-owner has malpractice insurance for himself as well as for the practice as a whole.
Concern: You have an optometry student working who has not graduated from optometry school yet and/or has not yet obtained a state license. That student conducts pre-tests, refracts patients and does other odds and ends in the exam room. States differ on what optometry students are legally permitted to do. Your malpractice also may not cover doctors who have not yet graduated and/or those who don’t yet have a state license.
Safeguard: Find out what your state laws allow optometry students to do in an optometric practice and whether the scope of your malpractice insurance covers their work. Only allow them to do precisely what they are both legally allowed to do according to your state law and what your malpractice insurance allows them to do in order for their work to be covered.