• Todd Eiseman

What You Need to Know About Background Screening in Healthcare

In an industry that’s growing more rapidly than any other sector, healthcare employers must exercise careful due diligence when hiring employees to meet these increasing demands. The risks of not doing so can be substantial. These are employees who interface directly with vulnerable people, the sick, elderly, children, and infants; they have access to controlled substances and medications; and they have access to sensitive private information and personal data. Across the country, their actions affect the lives and wellbeing of hundreds and thousands of people. While background checks are critical to mitigating these risks, the laws surrounding background screening in healthcare are far from ubiquitous and consistent across the industry or across the United States. Here’s what you need to know.

Crime in the Healthcare Industry

Annual Gallup polls consistently report that Americans trust nurses for their honesty and ethical standards more than any other profession in the US. Pharmacists and physicians come in at number two and three, respectively.

However, it’s clear that healthcare workers have many opportunities to abuse this trust, ranging from maltreatment and patient abuse, to financial fraud and exploitation, to drug misuse and abuse.

Criminal activity is more prevalent in some areas of healthcare than others. In nursing homes, for example, surveys suggest that up to 44 percent of nursing home residents say they have been abused (a high percentage, even allowing for inaccuracies related to residents with dementia). And a study from the US General Accountability Office (GAO)revealed a 21 percent increase in consumer complaints about nursing homes between the years of 2005 to 2014.

These kinds of concerns are why background checks are a vital component in protecting the people whose care has been entrusted to you and in reducing healthcare crime. Workers with a history of fraud, violence or other criminal activities should be assessed carefully when considered for a position of responsibility.

The Role of State Medical Boards

It’s important to know that to become licensed in the medical field, 45 state medical boards require criminal background checks. Of those 45, 39 require fingerprint background checks, and 43 have access to the FBI database.

Although it’s encouraging that these institutions are being proactive in mitigating risks in the healthcare workforce, it’s not as reassuring that many are depending upon FBI fingerprint background checks to do so. As we’ve discussed previously, the FBI database process is not as accurate or complete as is necessary for legally compliant criminal background screening, and it falls very short on consumer protections.

Ultimately, healthcare organizations should be aware of those states that do not require background checks for licensure. Furthermore, they should recognize that even within the states that do have this requirement, the method of screening may not ensure an adequate level of accuracy properly balanced with consumer protections. Finally, there’s clearly no guarantee that a clean record at the outset will be sustained throughout a medical professional’s entire career. Regular background re-screening in healthcare workers is vital.

How the ACA Affects Background Screening in Healthcare

We recently explored how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affects hiring in healthcare, but it also plays a major role in background screening in healthcare. Section 6201 of the Act specifically calls out the long‑term care sector, setting requirements for background checks in order to help protect patients against abuse, neglect, and financial misappropriation.

In particular, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administer a program that provides grants to States that design and implement background check programs for long-term care facilities and providers. It’s a voluntary program, and in the four years since its inception, it has awarded more than $50 million (out of the appropriated $160 million) of federal funds to 26 states that have established programs.

However, out of these 26 states, few have formalized specific processes for collecting criminal background information, which leaves little data with which to evaluate the success of the program. From the data that do exist, it is possible to report that 3 percent of candidates were denied employment due to their criminal background.

To find out if you’re in a state that requires background checks on long-term care workers, visit the CMS website.

Protecting Your Workplace Starts with Background Checks

No matter the state within which your organization operates, it should be clear that with increased opportunity for employees to abuse consumer trust, more rigorous risk mitigation should be practiced. Background screening in healthcare is one of the most important factors in protecting your organization against negligence, abuse, and workplace crime. For drug screening, criminal history, education and employment verification, and more, easyBackgrounds delivers industry-specific employee background screening.

Find out more about our healthcare background check services or simply contact us today.

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