Physicians face certain risks and responsibilities when collecting patient information prior to the patient arriving for his or her appointment. A new patient may complete an online intake form but not show up for the appointment. Or a new patient may complete a paper record with an intake history but then leave before being seen. The data that is collected, either electronically or on paper, is in the hands of your office practice.
As a physician, you now face a dilemma. What is your responsibility for the information provided by a patient whom you have not seen? Whether or not you review this information, you face a risk if the patient believes that a physician-patient relationship has been established. And if the patient has indicated a serious medical condition and you don’t take action consistent with the community standard of care, then you are potentially liable.
To avoid this risk, place a disclaimer on any data-collecting instrument. The following are recommendations for disclaimers for both electronic and paper forms:
Please be advised that by using this form to contact our office(s), we are not confirming an appointment nor establishing a physician-patient relationship. As a user of this mode of communication and of our website, you assume all risks with placing confidential information into this portal. Our office will follow up with you within 24 to 48 business hours. This form of communication is not intended for acute, emergency, or life-threatening health conditions. If you believe you are having a health emergency, contact 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.
Please be advised that completing preliminary health and insurance questionnaires does not establish a physician-patient relationship with this practice. Dr. <X> will review your health history and conduct an initial evaluation to determine whether you are a suitable candidate and whether the practice will accept you as a patient.
Protecting the confidentiality of all patients—whether they are established clients or no-shows—is important to minimize the risk of a malpractice suit. Another way to minimize your practice liability is to do a loss prevention checkup. The Doctors Company offers a “Patient Safety Interactive Guide for Office Practices,” which includes a checklist to ensure you and your office staff are protecting the confidentiality of all patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.