Staying Ahead of Doctor Background Check Loopholes

Staying Ahead of Doctor Background Check Loopholes
Senior Director of Marketing

Criminal background checks can be an effective risk mitigation tool for healthcare organizations and medical staff departments in vetting the quality of physicians. Unfortunately, not all states require background checks for doctors, which can pose a safety risk for patients. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas said professionals on his staff and lawyers agree physicians do not have to submit to the criminal history checks and child abuse clearances required of many employees and adult volunteers who work around children. Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, however, will consider an amendment to the bill as early as March to close the loophole that was brought to light by an inquiry made to the Department of Human Services by the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

Here’s what healthcare employers should know about the existing loopholes surrounding background checks for doctors and how to address them.

Medical Boards Lack Background Checks

Besides Pennsylvania, there are several other states that don’t require physician background checks. According to an American Medical Association article from April 2012, medical boards in 14 states lack the authority to conduct searches on physicians. Healthcare organizations should consider this loophole when developing their background check policies for employed, appointed, and privileged physicians. Even if your organization’s state medical board has the authority to conduct background checks on physicians, child advocate Cathy Palm makes a valid point for both employers and parents. “[Background checks are] a moment-in-time look and records could be inaccurate,” she states in the PennLive article.

As a best practice, background checks should never be considered a one-time practice. As Palm mentioned, they can give employers a false sense of protection if they are not timely and up-to-date. For medical staff services departments, specifically, this means conducting background checks beyond the initial appointment of the physician. It’s up to each organization to determine how often background checks are conducted, but the frequency can range from every one to two years, for example. If a medical staff department reappoints physicians every two years, then that may be an appropriate timeframe to consider.

Hospital Background Check Best Practices

It seems as though hospitals don’t need a state mandate in order to run background checks on physicians. According to the PennLive article, four midstate hospitals stated they still require physicians they employ to obtain child abuse and criminal history clearances, despite Pennsylvania’s background check law loophole. As we’ve discussed before, even when certain state laws require background checks for specific healthcare positions, hospitals typically choose to run them consistently over their entire staff.

While it’s certainly a good practice to conduct background checks to ensure safety amongst patients and staff alike, it’s also important to run the right types of background checks, with an emphasis on their accuracy. Upon reviewing the various state laws, you’ll notice that many of them reference the national FBI fingerprint background check, which should never be considered the gold standard in the screening industry. Like any database search, not only is it highly inaccurate, but the information it contains is often incomplete as well. Checking the primary sources of criminal records, like state and county record searches, will provide a more accurate check.

As a final word of caution, if you are in healthcare and participating in federal healthcare programs like Medicare, you should ensure exclusion screening is a part of your background check process. While checking sex offender registries are very important for patient safety, not checking the Office of Inspector General’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (OIG-LEIE) and having an excluded individual on staff could cost your organization hefty fines and Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs).

There are several loopholes concerning physician background checks, but healthcare employers can mitigate risk by establishing background check policies that are mindful of these valuable members of the team.

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit