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The emergence of new categories of healthcare professionals

As the medical workforce struggles to deliver timely service to the public, other categories of healthcare workers are emerging, and will continue to emerge to supplement and in some settings replace medical practitioners.

Physician associates are one such group, nurse practitioners are another. Both groups exist in many countries including several with advanced healthcare systems.

Nurse anaesthetists and nurse endoscopists are other examples of advanced practice providers (APPs) that have been accepted elsewhere in the Western world, but have yet to find acceptance in New Zealand.

As each of these professional groups and other groups of allied health professionals emerge and grow in number and responsibility, so too will their exposure to disgruntled patients and members of the public. They, like medical practitioners, must prepare themselves for what is unfortunately becoming a more hostile medico-legal environment in New Zealand.

Professional risk reduction and mitigation can be achieved in multiple ways including:

  • quality training programmes

  • observance of scope of practice

  • careful and full documentation of consultations and

  • carrying appropriate professional indemnity insurance.

In New Zealand, every effort is made to ensure the first three of these are attended to, but the majority of the country’s medical and health practitioners continue to rely on professional liability coverage from mutual societies such as MPS and NZNO.

Such cover belongs to a world in which professional risks were low. Unfortunately, the stakes for health professionals are changing, and so too must their approach to professional indemnity cover.

The professional risks facing health professionals in NZ today make all the more important cover through a true insurance product such as that provided by Medicus. Insurance cover involves a contract and provides not only certainty around legal assistance, but also certainty around cover against orders of compensation or professional damages.

Richard S Stubbs, clinical researcher and retired surgeon


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