Avoid Lawsuits by Allowing Whistleblowers to Voice Concerns Internally

Emily Berry, April 19, 2010

No CEO wants to see his hospital's name splashed across newspaper headlines because of a high-profile court case.

One of the ways to avoid court cases is to allow employees to voice their concerns, through a regulated, internal process designed to protect both the hospital and whistleblower. Strengthening internal whistleblower policies is a good way for hospitals to identify and correct mistakes, and to retain valuable employees who see areas for improvement in the current processes. In fact, some hospitals expect their employees to blow the whistle.

"Whistleblowers are neither heroes nor problems; we view the act of bringing forward problems as a condition of employment," says Jerry Berger, director of media relations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston.

"We believe that employees need to let us know when things are not being done according to policy or regulation, and [we] protect all those who come forward in good faith," says Berger. "However, those that come forward with false or misleading claims—and do so with the intent of causing harm to another employee or the organization—would not be protected."

The precise regulations that your hospital may want to put in place to protect and encourage whistleblower feedback vary by location.

"There are both federal and state laws protecting whistleblowers," says Gail Blanchard-Saiger, vice president of labor and employment at the California Hospital Association (CHA). Federal law requires hospitals to:

  • Maintain an anonymous hotline for individuals (patients, administrative professionals, practitioners) to report suspect behavior
  • Follow up with the individual to report progress on the investigation and ask for additional information, as needed

Hospitals can choose the precise medium for carrying out these requirements, whether they use an anonymous phone line or Web site. Although this is a hospital responsibility, the medical staff is responsible for adhering to the hospital's policies and educating its members about them.

Ultimately, whistleblowers can help a hospital avoid lawsuits, but only if the hospital's leaders are willing to listen.

Emily Berry is an associate editor for Briefings on Credentialing and Credentialing Resource Center Connection, and manages the Credentialing Resource Center. You can reach her at eberry@hcpro.com.

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