If the physician recruitment process is a puzzle, then the background check is the vacuum cleaner, sweeping the area for any missing puzzle pieces.
“You are trying to get the whole picture,” said Tim Lary, vice president of physician staffing at North Hollywood, Calif.-based IPC: The Hospitalist Company. “You are trying to see if something doesn’t fit right.”
Any competent health care organization will conduct a background check on physician job candidates, first and foremost to ensure patient safety and a safe practice environment for other health care providers, Lary said. There is also the issue of liability.
Financial liability for the negative acts of employees, whether accidental or intentional, is an area of exposure for businesses, said Les Rosen, president and CEO of Employment Screening Resources, a consumer reporting agency and human resources consulting firm in Novato, Calif. Businesses can be held liable for injuries resulting from the failure to adequately screen the people it hires. Background checks demonstrate the organization has done its due diligence in assessing the safety and competence of job candidates. “It enables an organization to hire based upon facts, not just instincts,” said Rosen.
Otolaryngologists must be prepared to effectively deal with background checks throughout professional careers. Employment checks often involve three areas: credentials verification, reference checking and an additional background investigation.
Credentialing includes a review of the physician’s completed education, training, residency, licenses and any certifications, and often encompasses the candidate’s hospital privileges history, malpractice claims history and peer reviews.
Reference checking involves verifying dates of employment and title at the otolaryngologist’s previous jobs and contacting references to speak with them about the candidate’s qualifications.
Background investigations often are done by a third-party agency. The investigation will vary depending on the policies of the healthcare organization contracting the review, but, generally speaking, it includes a check of the following:
- Criminal and civil court records for criminal convictions, arrests and lawsuits;
- Motor vehicle records and driver record status;
- The National Practitioner Data Bank for malpractice cases and medical board sanctions;
- Medicare sanction list of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
- Social Security number; and
- Sex offender and terrorist databases.
Some investigations will include credit checks, which can cover credit payment history, bankruptcies, tax liens and accounts placed into collections.
It is illegal during a background check to search for information related to a job candidate’s race, age, religion, sexual orientation or any other protected category under the federal Civil Rights Act, said Cheryl Slack, vice president of human resources at Brentwood, Tenn.-based Cogent Healthcare.
Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, it also is illegal for a third-party consumer-reporting agency to perform an employment background check in secret, said Rosen. The applicant must authorize the check by signing a standalone disclosure form, he added. For the rare health care organizations that do their background checks in house, most will seek consent.
Disclosure Is Crucial
Otolaryngologist job candidates should do whatever they can to make sure the people in charge of hiring aren’t surprised
by what turns up in a background check, the experts say. “Nothing is more frustrating than finding out there is a problem late in the application process,” said Lary.
Otolaryngologists should inform the references they list on their resumes that they could be contacted. Such a “heads up” often gives a reference time to organize their thoughts about the job applicant and provide the best possible recommendation.
“You would be shocked at how many references are surprised to learn the [physician] is looking for a job or how many applicants give as references people who don’t like them personally or professionally,” Lary said. “There are even times when physicians will take a pass on a reference. That speaks volumes.”
The most important thing a candidate should know is if there is something negative in their background that could be professionally damaging if discovered. Said Rosen, it is best to make the people hiring aware of the information. Those who disclose past issues are in a much better position to explain the situation and show how they have cleaned up a messy situation.
Reprinted with permission from the Society of Hospital Medicine.