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Q&A: Background Checks For Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals handle a great deal of sensitive and private information, and are required to follow strict state and federal regulations. Because of this responsibility, background checks for employees are an important in the industry. The Healthcare Professionals Section spoke with Ashley Hattaway, a labor and employment law attorney with the firm Burr & Forman in Birmingham, Alabama, on how background checks are used in healthcare and when Notaries may be involved with them.

What positions in the healthcare industry typically require background checks?

I recommend that background checks be performed on doctors, nurses, other employees involved in direct patient care, personnel who handle confidential medical information and personnel who handle money. An employer could decide to conduct background checks on all of its employees, subject to any restrictions imposed by state law, but I consider the positions mentioned above to be those for which a background check is most helpful. State law sometimes dictates who must be background screened and how such checks may be performed, so employers need to be knowledgeable about their state's laws on the subject. In addition to background checks, healthcare employers that participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs should check to see if any employees or potential employees have been excluded from those programs.

Are there documents related to background checks that require notarization?

Some institutions that provide training in certain healthcare fields require that applicants provide signed, notarized documents related to criminal history and/or licensing. This varies by institution and may depend on state law. Other healthcare related entities sometimes require notarized criminal background checks for various purposes.

What assurances do background checks provide?

One of the most important reasons to perform a background check on a medical professional is to confirm that the individual is licensed to do his job and has not had his professional license revoked or suspended. If an individual is not licensed or has certain conditions on his license, the employer needs to know to make sure it complies with the law and to avoid malpractice claims. A healthcare organization that wants to receive payments from Medicare and Medicaid also needs to ensure that no employees have been excluded from the program.

Another good reason to perform a background check is to determine if the individual has been convicted of a crime that may be relevant to that person's job duties. It is also a good idea for employers to confirm education, employment and other such history to make sure that applicants for employment have been truthful about their background and qualifications. While many previous employers will not provide specifics about a person's job history, such as why the person left the company, the employer shows some due diligence in at least confirming that the person worked where she said she did.

What sort of information must typically be submitted for a background check?

Healthcare professionals will usually need to provide a third party background check service with their name, recent addresses and social security number. The employer should provide the most complete information as possible regarding recent addresses and request that the service provider check all states where the employee or potential employee lived or worked during the relevant time frame. Bear in mind that organizations who conduct third party background checks should obtain an authorization from the employee or potential employee for the check and follow the other requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any applicable state law.

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