Mixed Discipline Practices: A Case Study

Guest article by BMS Group

Midway through last year, a patient presented to a clinician within a physiotherapy practice complaining of back pain. This is a standard complaint for 1 in 6 Australians[1] and has a vast set of treatments that can be applied to return mobility and reduce pain. In this instance, the individual was treated though the use of physical manipulation on the back, and the outcome was severe nerve compression resulting in numbness and a loss of movement.

In this case the clinician wasn’t a physiotherapist, but because the appointment took place in a physiotherapy practice, the physiotherapist in this setting (the practice manager) had a difficult and stressful circumstance on their hands. As a professional in any discipline, to have tried to assist the client with their issue, only to have a devastating result is a terrible and disheartening outcome.

So what’s the outcome for you when a contractor in your studio creates an incident with a negative outcome? For this physio, the outcome was a lengthy and arduous multi defendant litigation that sought to identify who was liable for this incident and what the patient was eligible to receive as compensation.

So, why is the physiotherapist involved at all? In Australian law, the practice manager and/or the business itself can be brought into a legal case when the liability is unclear. Sometimes there can be the assertion that processes, due diligence in relation to confirming appropriate qualifications or skills, as well as the general running of the business can form the basis for a claim of vicarious liability, claiming that the business or practice manager, in some way, contributed to the ultimate outcome.  Any studio, clinic or practice which engages in multi-discipline treatment is at risk of a similar circumstance and similar levels of liability.

In this circumstance, whether or not the liability is valid does not stop the physio from having to act in defense of their position, and incur cost to do so. In some cases, your insurance would extend to cover this, but this is not always the case. Most insurances distinguish between the individual’s treatment and the vicarious liability of the business itself, and it’s important to understand that there is a difference and to not assume that you’re covered.

So what can you do to ensure you’re protected in this instance?

  • As a matter of best practice, ensure all clinicians that you employ, or that you contract, carry a professional indemnity and public liability policy. We’d recommend at least $5 million in cover (the PAA policy is $10 million Professional Indemnity and $20 million Public Liability).
  • Be aware that even if the clinician only uses part of your clinic, and uses no shared services, you may still be brought into an action.
  • Stipulate your insurance requirements in contracts to ensure you are legally covered off.
  • Ensure you collect and record the qualifications of all clinicians (where appropriate) to demonstrate that due diligence has been taken.
  • Ensure your own policy is up to date and in place.
  • Ensure you have cover for vicarious liability arising from these kinds of circumstances. The BMS PAA policy can cover these circumstances but there may be an additional cost. If you run a practice, especially one with mixed business, call BMS to confirm you have the appropriate cover.

If you’re unsure if you’re appropriately covered, or if you want any advice about insurance, contact us via phone 1800 940 764 or email pilatesaa@bmsgroup.com

Shamus Breen of BMS Group will be a guest in the Studio Owner’s Panel Discussion on Saturday 14 September at the Conference, and the BMS team will also be on hand at their stand over the weekend to answer any questions.

[1] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/back-problems/contents/what-are-back-problems