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Protecting patients' eyes from harm is a doctor's No. 1 priority. But have you taken steps to protect your career as well?

Whether you are a seasoned doctor of optometry or just beginning your professional career, having the right professional liability insurance is essential. AOA members can practice with confidence with insurance available through AOAExcel® and its endorsed business partners.

Oliver Sowards, program executive at Lockton Affinity, shares answers to frequently asked questions about malpractice insurance.

What is malpractice insurance, and why do doctors of optometry need it?

Malpractice insurance-also referred to as professional liability insurance-insures doctors of optometry in the event they are named in lawsuits regarding the services or advice provided to their patients. Examples of these types of suits could be a failure to diagnose, prescribing the wrong medication, etc. Malpractice insurance reimburses doctors for the costs that come with defending themselves when lawsuits are brought against them.

How do doctors know which malpractice insurance policy to buy?

There are several options available when purchasing malpractice insurance, but regardless of cost, doctors should always look for a malpractice insurance policy that covers them for the services they provide as doctors of optometry. The main items doctors should look for are:

  • Various limit options. The policy should provide limit options to meet their needs. These liability limits could be presented like $1MM/$3MM or $2MM/$4MM. The first figure represents the maximum dollar amount the insurance company will pay per claim during the policy year. The second figure represents the maximum dollar amount the insurance company will pay for all claims during the policy year.
  • Scope of practice. They should know what scope of practice is approved by their state board of optometry and make sure their insurance will cover it.
  • Check exclusions. Check the policy exclusions page to see if any specific treatment like surgery or other optometric procedures are excluded from coverage.
  • Portability. Ensure their coverage provides them protection wherever they are practicing.  

What's the difference between a group and individual policy?

There are a few differences, but ultimately the choice depends on the doctors' preferences and their practices. If doctors partner with one or more other doctors, many insurance providers offer group policies. This policy would be shared between them and the other doctors in their group, including premium costs and policy limits. Group policies also can have the option of separate limits, meaning their practices would have additional limits of liability, the same amount as theirs but separate. This is a good option to ensure they and their practices have the proper coverage.

With an individual professional liability policy, they are covered in the exact ways they wish to be. Their policies would have the limits of liability of their choosing. And, because the policies are issued in their names, many potential conflicts of interest between them and their employers may be eliminated in the event a claim is filed against them.

Is general liability the same as malpractice insurance?

No. General liability insurance protects doctors in the event of lawsuits involving physical injury to a person or damage to property arising from their daily operations as a doctor. This is separate coverage from malpractice insurance, but some doctors choose to carry both types of insurance.

July 6, 2020

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