Sunday, February 8, 2009

How liable are you when you give mentoring advice?

Have you ever wondered what the legal ramifications could be when you have given professional advice to a friend or colleague? What happens if you are sharing a coffee, and advise a fellow health professional to take a certain action which then turns to custard - are you liable for that advice? Is this just a potential problem for health professionals, or does it affect you whatever job you do?

Legalities of mentoring
The reason I ask this is because of a conversation I had the other day about the potential risks that I have to manage in the eMentoring project I am implementing for Aged Care Queensland (ACQI). The concern is about the liability of the mentor and ACQI, if a mentee implements advice from a mentor that results in litigation.

Managing risk
My thought is that every mentee is ultimately responsible for his/her own actions, and should sign off on this on a consent form at the beginning of the mentoring relationship. However, this may not be sufficently rubust if taken to court. I have said before that mentoring is not about the giving of clinical advice, but that may not stop clinical advice being given.

Position of mentor
Another issue is the resonsibility of the mentor if the mentee discloses information about bad practice - at what point should a mentor have to follow up disclosures from a mentee?

Supporting mentors
I think that one way to manage this is to make sure the mentor feels well supported by ACQI, to make sure they understand that they can refer to me and the project team at any time for help and advice.

The other thing I want to do is embed an online device for the mentors so they can support each other, especially when I am no longer involved in the project. This will add to the sustainability of the project. This may take the form of an email group, online discussion on the eMentoring project wiki/blog or synchronus meetings - I am not sure how this will pan out at this stage because it will depend on the needs of the mentors.

What do you think about these issues, and how would you suggest I go about managing them? Would the potential risk of litigation prevent you from being a mentor in a formal mentoring program?

Image: 'london 16082008-66' Walwyn


Sarah Stewart said...

I would advise the participants to be very careful about what they document about clients. I would suggest they did not document things about particular clients.

Sarah Stewart said...

Another suggestion from Twitter folk-look at indemnity insurance, for ACQI & individual practitioners.

JoHart said...

OK trying again Sarah – hope it “takes” this time lol.
I don’t think it is just a prob in health eg if u r mentoring a new lecturer and advise that they “pass” a borderline student & then student builds a wall that falls on someone where is the liability? TAFE has situation where if industry area qual’d lecturer does not have assessor qual then they are “supervised” often by someone without industry expertise - assessment is as a “team”. I am not healthcare professional but have worked with many over the years (Aus and UK)
I think that mentees have to take responsibil;ity for their own professional decisions – all of us discuss with colleagues, listen to suggestions etc but in the end we stand or fall on our own professional judgement. Think the sign-off with a formal mentoring arrangement is probably the only way to go to cover the legal side. I am in informal mentoring all the time and in that or the formal mentoring would avoid giving direct advice – always try to offer alternatives and or clarify choices – never ever say “do this” pushed to extreme might say if it was me I would …. but always add caveat that being professional is abt making prof decisions & taking responsibility for them (gets me into trouible all the time – standing by my principles). IMHO being a mentor is mostly about being a sounding board.
With the issues of disclosure & confidentiality – think these have to be very clear at outset – mentees must be clear that they have duty of care wr to disclosing if anyone is at risk. Have been in the tell/not tell situation a number of times – have to make own prof decision based on circs

Buckeyebrit said...

Agree with JoHart - a robust mentor/mentee agreement where the terms, scope and responsibilities are outlined. Not sure how much training (e-training or otherwise) both sides of the coin will go through before starting their relationship? I like the idea of the mentors having some independent ability to discuss difficult situations. Without wanting to complicate the issue too much could you have a few mentor "champions" who newbie mentors could approach for help in difficult situations?

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you both for your comments, and yes, I agree that robust mentoring contracts are key. We can't make things too complicated or else no one will be a mentor. What I do want to do is provide soem sort of forum for mentors to meet and support each other so they can talk through any stcky situations they come across.