7 Reasons Rehabilitation Counselors Should Get Malpractice Insurance

July 7, 2021 •

Disability, whether physical or mental, can be difficult to come to terms with. In fact, it can be so challenging for many people that rehabilitation counselors are necessary to help disabled individuals transition to their new limitations in order to cope with daily functioning needs. That said, because rehabilitation is tailored to every client and because there are so many noteworthy psychological components associated with rehabilitation, it’s necessary for practitioners to be protected by malpractice or liability insurance.

7 Reasons Rehabilitation Counselors Should Get Malpractice Insurance

Most medical professionals have liability insurance that will protect them from some of the legal fees associated with malpractice suits. In fact, in some states, it’s a legal necessity to have malpractice insurance – practitioners who don’t have this insurance may face steep fees from the state. Regardless of whether a rehabilitation expert is working with an organization, such as a hospital, or their own practice, this type of insurance is a vital component of giving clients good, standardized care.

But other than the fact that your state may legally require you to have this insurance, there are a few other reasons why you should have liability insurance. From common mistakes on the job to accusations made by clients, some of the best reasons to arrange for insurance coverage include:

1. Accusation of Improper Techniques or Treatments

Patients or their families may accuse a therapist of using improper techniques or treatments during the course of treating a disabled client. This is more likely to occur in the case where the client is injured or harmed as a result of therapeutic techniques. While more common for occupational therapy that focuses on physical rehabilitation, rehabilitation therapists can also face similar accusations if the patient claims that therapeutic practices were ill-advised or caused the client to take action that resulted in harm.

Generally, these accusations can also be extended to specific cognitive-behavioral practices the therapist uses with the client. For example, because rehabilitation therapy encourages patients to live independently, a client, family member, or case manager may accuse a therapist of pushing the client to live independently too soon, especially if this advice results in harm to the client.

2. Potential Premature Discharge of Patients

It may be the case that clients are prematurely discharged from care. While therapists are under no obligation to provide care for patients they are not qualified to treat (and are, in fact, actively discouraged from doing so), it can sometimes be the case that a therapist will discharge a client believing the client is prepared to live independently. However, under certain circumstances, discharging a client can be viewed as premature.

This is different from when a client removes themselves from care, particularly when they do so against physician advice. In this case, it’s unlikely that liability insurance will be necessary since there will be medical forms that will prove the client discontinued treatment of their own volition and not at the advice of the therapist.

3. Boundary Issues or Excessive Self-Disclosure

One of the core ethical principles of mental health care is adhering to the boundaries of a professional relationship. Mental health professionals are not meant to form interpersonal relationships with clients, which is why practitioners are not allowed to treat family members or even friends within their community. Boundaries between the client and therapist will ensure that all care is provided without bias.

However, in the process of building trust and a rapport between client and therapist, some boundary crossing may happen, such as the therapist sharing information about family circumstances or their own personal stories. There is a line that mental health professionals should not cross in the amount of self-disclosure they provide. If boundary issues are excessive, a client may complain about the care they are receiving from the mental health professional.

4. Departure From Standard of Care

The standard of care is the baseline for any reasonable care a mental health professional (or medical professional) can provide to a client. The standard of care is generally the accepted “normal” course of treatment that can be expected for any given issue. For rehabilitation therapists, the standard of care is to provide counseling that will help the client live independently, which usually amounts to cognitive-behavioral therapeutic techniques.

The client may decide that the standard of care is not being observed if the therapist uses new techniques, unpracticed techniques, or simply does not provide the level of care the client expects. In these cases, both the client and the practitioner will have to provide proof about the standard of care so that it can be determined whether or not there was a departure.

5. Inadequate Medical Records

It’s vital that all medical and mental health professionals keep an accurate medical record that records and outlines the care for each individual client. Keeping incorrect records or simply having inadequate records for patient care can be a reason to lodge a complaint against a therapist. Not only is inadequate record-keeping a violation of state legislation and potential HIPAA laws, but it can also raise the question of whether or not the therapist was providing adequate care for the client.

6. Treatment Beyond Professional Scope

Mental health professionals are advised against providing care for patients they are not qualified or trained to treat. For example, a rehabilitation counselor should not offer care to a client who is recovering from substance abuse or severe mental disorders since they are not trained to treat these patients. If a client requires treatment beyond the scope of the professional, a referral for better care is necessary. Failure to refer is a common malpractice claim.

If it can be proven that a therapist is providing care outside of their scope of expertise, either because their organization did not give them adequate resources or because they failed to refer the client, then they will face steeper liability charges. This is doubly true if treatment beyond the scope resulted in harm to the client.

7. Patient Suicide or Suicide Attempt

Unfortunately, one of the stark realities faced by mental health professionals is the possibility that patients will commit or attempt suicide over the course or after treatment. In the case of suicide attempts, whether or not the attempt is successful, the mental health professional will be under scrutiny to determine whether or not adequate care was given to the client. This is one of the most common complaints made about mental health practitioners.

How Common Are Complaints About Mental Health Practitioners?

From psychiatrists to rehabilitation therapists, mental health professionals are more likely to face complaints than physical therapists or other physicians. Why? It can be hard to say. One study indicates that complaints about malpractice are lodged almost twice as much for mental health professionals than physical health professionals.

There are several reasons why complaints are so common. For example, improper record-keeping, confidentiality issues, boundary-crossing, other breaches in the standard of care may be a reason for clients or their family members to complain about care.

What Do Rehabilitation Counselors Do?

The goal of a rehabilitation counselor is to help disabled people build the coping skills necessary to promote healthy daily functioning, which can also include finding solutions to employment issues, independent living, basic care, and more. Rehabilitation therapists are in charge of the mental health of disabled people and typically treat adults, including people who are newly disabled.

The role of a rehabilitation therapist is much different than an occupational therapist, who focuses on helping disabled clients learn the physical skills necessary for independent living. Rehabilitation experts provide guidance on how to function around limitations, give counseling for certain cognitive or mood challenges, and help the disabled individual implement strategies to lead a fulfilled lifestyle.

Advocate for Client

Rehabilitation therapists are also advocates for the health and safety of their clients. For example, it’s common for therapists to communicate the needs and limitations of a client with the client’s caregivers, family members, case managers, and other medical health professionals. Advocating with the client can also mean helping the client find employers or community resources to help the client live independently.

What Does Malpractice Insurance Look Like for Rehabilitation Counselors?

In general, whether or not the rehabilitation therapist is at fault in these cases is irrelevant. For one thing, most of the time these cases are either settled outside of court or are taken through the legal process where a judge or jury will determine if negligence is truly related to the accusation levied by the client or family members of the client. In these circumstances, liability insurance will pay for the legal fees and a portion (or all) of the settlement.

So, what else can liability insurance do for rehabilitation therapists? You may be surprised to learn about the scope of what this type of insurance can help with, which includes:

  • License defense
  • Defense costs
  • HIPAA fines
  • Volunteer liability coverage
  • Telemedicine coverage

Do Practitioners at Hospitals Need Coverage?

Obviously, if you own your own practice, you are going to want liability coverage to protect yourself in case of complaints. But if you work for a hospital or a mental health facility, will you need your own coverage? After all, healthcare organizations typically have their own coverage for malpractice accusations. However, the fact of the matter is that facilities have malpractice insurance to protect themselves – not necessarily the individual therapists working for them.

If you want to protect your career and your ability to practice in the future, then it’s a wise decision to take out liability insurance for yourself. This may be especially important for mental health professionals since the risk of complaints is generally higher.

Can Rehabilitation Counselors Avoid Malpractice?

Roughly 40% of mental health professionals will face a complaint from their state licensing board over the course of a career, with about 2% of counselors facing malpractice lawsuits. Although these may not seem like significant numbers, the reality is that no matter how rare malpractice lawsuits are, they are terribly expensive – and they can potentially end a career if professionals don’t have adequate protection.

So, aside from rehabilitation counselors having malpractice insurance, is there anything that can be done to avoid potential malpractice? Some steps may include:

  • Understand boundaries and multiple relationships
  • Keep up with state and federal regulations
  • Beware of ethical violations and confidentiality breaches
  • Practice clear communication with client relatives and care team
  • Take good notes

Whether you work for a healthcare facility or you have your own independent practice, it’s important for rehabilitation counselors to have adequate malpractice insurance to protect themselves from complaints and lawsuits. At NOW Insurance we make insurance simple, fast and affordable. Get a quote today in under 3 minutes from our easy online application.

Contact us with questions about coverage.

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