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A Healthcare Professional’s Guide to Creating a Risk Management Plan

A group of four healthcare workers gathers in a conference room, reviewing notes on laptops and clipboards while having a discussion.

More than perhaps any other industry, the healthcare industry requires extremely precise and proactive risk management strategies, due to the stakes at hand, as well as the comprehensive regulations involved. There is both a large number of risks, and a high cost for mistakes in this industry. Common risks that need to be assessed and managed in the healthcare industry include:

  • Failure to abide by comprehensive healthcare protocols;
  • Breaches of sensitive information;
  • Loss of important information and documentation;
  • Staffing issues;
  • Human resource management issues;
  • Inappropriate prescription or administration of drugs;
  • Inappropriate treatment;
  • Poor communication management;
  • Failure to maintain proper feedback and reporting channels;
  • Improper disposal of hazardous materials;
  • Ethical shortcomings. 

The best tool for mitigating these risks is proper preparation, and creating a risk management plan is a great place to start. 

Create a Formal Document

A risk management plan won’t be effective if it is not formalized, organized, and accessible. As such, it is important that the plan is written out in a file that is easy to understand and is accessible to all personnel and interested parties that may need to use it. It should also be reviewed by several parties to check for accuracy and usability before it is finalized. How you format and organize the document will depend on your organizational structure and your organization’s needs. At a minimum, this document should include:

  • A prioritized list of risks;
  • Anticipated consequences of the risks;
  • Responsibility delegation for risks;
  • Specific strategies for risk avoidance;
  • Specific contingency plans in the event of a failure to prevent risk;
  • Risk thresholds;
  • Ongoing risk monitoring and reporting. 

Ideally, this should be a living document that is frequently updated and used to track progress. 

Conduct a Risk Assessment

You can’t manage risks without being aware of the risks in the first place. Risks in the healthcare field encapsulate everything from administrative to procedural to ethical risks. Risk management in this arena must account for everything from radiation exposure and improper dosing to data breaches and employee safety. As such, a thorough assessment of risk must be conducted. Options for risk assessment include:

  • Data gathering;
  • Use of existing industry knowledge;
  • Understanding of industry regulations;
  • Employee feedback;
  • Patient feedback;
  • Anticipation of changes in procedure or regulations. 

Quantify and Prioritize Risks

You will need to determine how likely a risk is, how significant the risk is, and prioritize risk prevention options accordingly. For example, x-rays are a commonly utilized tool in the medical field that have a high potential for serious damage to the human body if used improperly, and therefore personal protective equipment including safety glasses and lead aprons need to be on hand and properly used as a high priority. To assess the priority of a risk, you should weigh the likelihood of the risk and the severity of the consequences. To quantify risk, you can use the following assets:

  • Data analysis;
  • Existing knowledge about the industry;
  • Feedback from employees and patients;
  • Assessments of operations.

Analyze Risks

In addition to determining the likelihood and severity of risks, you will also need to analyze additional factors about identified risks, such as:

  • History of these risks in your facility;
  • The expense of risk prevention;
  • Who stands to be negatively affected by the risks;
  • Whether protocols need to be adjusted;
  • Whether equipment needs to be updated;
  • Which personnel needs to be involved in risk prevention and response. 

Respond to Risks

Risk prevention and response options can be approached in a variety of ways, including:

  • Specific protocols and policies;
  • Remediation plans;
  • Employee training;
  • Patient-facing information;
  • Personal protective equipment;
  • Signage;
  • Audits;
  • Cybersecurity updates. 

Whenever possible, healthcare organizations should seek to prevent risks rather than simply respond to problems after they arise. However, it is impossible to anticipate and prevent every issue, and therefore it is also important to have a robust response plan at the ready. For example, x-ray technicians should have access to x-ray markers, as well as receive training for how to properly use them, to prevent the risks associated with failing to properly mark x-rays per regulations. However, if legal action related to improperly marked x-rays is taken against the organization, you should ensure that legal resources have already been researched. 

Continually Monitor for Emerging Threats

As mentioned, a risk management plan should be a living document. This is because risks may evolve, new risks may emerge, new risks may be identified, or better options for risk prevention and response may be developed. As such, risks and the efficacy of risk management strategies should be reassessed on an ongoing basis, and these reassessments should be reflected in the risk management plan. 

Because of this need to continually reassess risks, it is important that a system is put into place that allows your organization to effectively track risks and risk response. Therefore, you should identify metrics that can be used to effectively track progress, and acquire helpful tools such as electronic record-keeping options to support the process. You should also reassess the role of various personnel in your risk management plan, as roles and responsibilities may shift over time.

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