Why Criminalizing Staff for Errors is the Wrong Approach in Healthcare - Here's Why!



Healthcare is expensive. According to the World Health Organization, the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country. On top of that, the healthcare industry is under constant attack. Price transparency and cost effectiveness are two of the biggest issues all healthcare providers face. In order to provide quality care at a reasonable cost, the healthcare industry will need new solutions. The healthcare industry is also vulnerable. Hospitals and medical practices are branded and shamed online. Hackers and cybercriminals are able to access patient information through insecure online portals. And because healthcare is a legal gray area, it’s easy for laws to be written with an eye on penalties and fines. The legal system is set up to punish individuals for breaking laws. This means laws that target individuals, rather than organizations or institutions, are often targeted for reform. That’s why many healthcare laws are changing to punish organizations, rather than individuals. Doctors and nurses are now being punished for the actions of others — the mistakes of others. Here’s what you should know about criminalizing staff for errors.


What is Criminalizing Staff for Errors?

Criminalizing staff for errors is the process of using the criminal law to punish individuals for the mistakes of others. This usually happens when patients open their own legal case against healthcare providers. In many countries, patients can sue healthcare providers for a number of reasons. For example, if a patient suffers an injury as the result of someone else’s negligence, he or she may have a legal case against the negligent party. Patients may also sue healthcare providers for errors. In these cases, patients sue the healthcare providers themselves. Criminalizing staff for errors is a controversial approach to healthcare law. This section explores some of the reasons why it’s a dangerous move.


Why Criminalize Staff for Errors?

One common reason to criminalize staff for errors is to deter future errors. If you can punish individuals, you can also set up a deterrent. In this way, you can protect the public from dangerous practices. In reality, though, you can also deter with fines and penalties. Equally, you can also deter with education. Deterrence and education are not one and the same. Fines and penalties can be used to educate the public. Education, on the other hand, is a one-off event. That’s why fines and penalties can be used to deter, but education cannot. Criminalizing staff for errors is often used as a short-term solution — while a new law is drafted. Once a new law is drafted, the practice is abandoned.


Is Criminalizing Staff for Errors the Right Approach?

Criminalizing staff for errors is an approach to healthcare law that focuses on penalties. Penalties are meant to punish individuals for breaking the law and deter future lawbreaking. However, there are other ways to improve healthcare. Education about the benefits of a healthcare system is one way. Changing the way regulations are written can also improve healthcare. Criminalizing staff for errors is often used in countries with a strong criminal justice system. Healthcare professionals would need to be aware of the local laws, and how they could affect them. Some healthcare professionals may be willing to take the risk. However, employees may not be willing to risk being fired or losing their job.


How do you criminalize staff for errors?

There are two important questions to ask when considering how to criminalize staff for errors:

How should employees be held accountable for mistakes?

How should the public be protected?


To answer these questions, healthcare providers can use case studies. In a healthcare case study, you analyze a set of events. You understand the circumstances surrounding the event and the role each person played. Once you have all of this information, you can assign blame and understand what went wrong. You can use this process to analyze healthcare error cases, as well. From there, you can make changes that protect patients and staff alike.


Pros of criminalizing staff for errors

Protects Patients

By criminalizing staff for errors, you protect patients from legal action. You can also protect staff from firing or other consequences. When you protect patients from legal action, you also protect their rights. No one should have their rights violated — least of all patients. Protecting patients from legal action is a key reason to criminalize staff for errors.

Protects Healthcare Providers

By criminalizing staff for errors, healthcare providers can protect themselves from lawsuits. Healthcare providers can also protect themselves from being fired or being disciplined by a regulatory body. Protecting healthcare providers from lawsuits and regulatory penalties protects the business from financial losses.

Protects Healthcare Consumers

By criminalizing staff for errors, healthcare consumers are protected from harm. When you protect consumers from harm, you also protect them from financial harm. When healthcare providers protect consumers from harm, you’re protecting them from financial harm, too.

Protects Healthcare Workers

When healthcare providers protect staff from firing, you’re protecting them from financial harm, too. Protecting staff from being fired protects staff from financial harm. Protecting staff from being fired also protects healthcare workers from financial harm — because they’re protected, they can focus on providing quality care.

Protects Healthcare Institutions

By criminalizing staff for errors, healthcare institutions can protect themselves from lawsuits. Healthcare institutions can protect themselves from regulatory penalties, too. Protecting healthcare institutions from lawsuits protects the business from financial harm. Protecting the business from regulatory penalties protects the institution from financial harm.


Cons of criminalizing staff for errors

Can Be Harsh

Criminalizing staff for errors is often used in countries with a strong criminal justice system. In these countries, it may be necessary. However, criminalizing staff for errors is likely to be harsh. It’s designed to punish individual healthcare providers and is unlikely to offer forgiveness. It’s also likely to affect marginalized communities, who may not have the resources to challenge the law.

Can Create a Vulnerable Workforce

Because criminalizing staff for errors can be harsh, it’s likely to create a vulnerable workforce. Not only will employees be scared to make mistakes, but they will be scared to speak up for themselves. In this way, criminalizing staff for errors has the potential to silence vulnerable members of a workforce.

Can Have a Negative Impact on Staff Turnover

By criminalizing staff for errors, you’re creating a culture of fear and silence. That’s likely to have a negative impact on staff turnover. That’s problematic because hiring and training new staff is expensive.




How can you criminalize the very people that work to perfect the institution of healthcare?

For the reasons above, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of using the criminal law to protect patients and staff from dangerous practices. Before you criminalize staff for errors, you should seriously consider the risks and consequences. The most outrageous concern as a deterrent for practicing such criminal prosecution of the healthcare workers is the fact up until now, the healthcare worker that makes an error more times than not, she/he will come forward and confess to the error. The process of root cause analysis would be performed to determine the root cause of the error in order to fix the process or processes that led up to the error analyzed. This is a very important process as it goes to prevent a recurring event of the same type of possibly system-wide issue. All industries, at some time or another, adopt such investigative measures as they see the benefit in making such continuous improvements in their processes, giving the end result of better patient care. So to send a registered nurse to jail for making an error that was birthed out of poor process management essentially cuts the life out of "continuous" improvements. This can be very dangerous to our healthcare system, so stop and think about your position and what it is you are really trying to do. Our healthcare system is not perfect, but how will we ever get there if we push to criminalize the very people that also can perfect it.

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