Communicating Compliance Terms in Plain English…

If you have ever been new to a particular field of the workforce, such as healthcare compliance, you know all too well that the language used by coworkers can sound foreign, like gibberish, or “alphabet soup.”  As we continue to work in the field though, we too, start speaking the language.  However, while that may be ok for conversing in the compliance department, it still be confusing if we are trying to communicate with, or to educate, other functional areas of the healthcare organization.  Without knowing the terminology, the message we are trying to convey is unlikely to be understood when received.

Alphabet Soup

Take a look at an example of terminology just starting with the letter “A” from the Office of the Inspector General Work Plan (reference below):

  • ADAP AIDS Drug Assistance Program (note this one includes an abbreviation in the definition);
  • AI/AN American Indians and Alaska Natives (I, for one, was unfamiliar with this abbreviation);
  • AIDS acquired immunodeficiency syndrome;
  • ALF assisted living facility;
  • ALJ administrative law judge;
  • AMD age‐related macular degeneration (while I have heard of macular degeneration, I did not know this was a standard abbreviation);
  • AMP average manufacturer price;
  • ASC ambulatory surgical center;
  • ASP average sales price; and
  • AWP average wholesale price.

Say I am talking to another seasoned compliance professional in front of a new employee.  Using the above “A” acronyms only, the conversation may sound something like this,

“Based on the billing audit, I see we are not receiving contracted AWP reimbursement under our AI/AN contract for ALF patients with AMD.”

As you can imagine, a new employee might be confused by the acronyms and terms communicated instead of using common business English.  Sometimes just saying the entire word instead of the abbreviation is a good place to start, so instead of saying AWP say average wholesale price.

Repetitive Communication

In order to improve communication between seasoned compliance professionals and other members of the organization, it is important to use repetitive teaching strategies.  In addition to saying the entire compliance term and the abbreviation, be repetitive and write out the compliance term in addition to the abbreviation in written communications.  That way staff become more familiar with compliance terminology and it becomes a part of their daily vocabulary.

Knowledge in Practice

When it comes to any industry, including healthcare, it is easy to throw around acronyms and jargon that is familiar and efficient.  However, it is important to be aware of who you are talking to, and therefore make sure they clearly understand whatever it is you are communicating.  Translate and reword industry terminology in emails, policies and teaching materials where necessary in order to improve communication and understanding.  Better compliance will ultimately be the result.


  1. Regularly evaluate training and orientation materials to ensure industry specific terminology is defined and understandable.
  2. Utilize the youCompli system as a centralized hub for new and existing compliance processes and utilize the included model procedures throughout the various areas of your organization.


Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Dictionary found at

Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Inspector General  (OIG), Work Plan Appendix B: Acronyms and Abbreviations found at

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM

District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

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I recently heard the term “moral rebel” while listening to an SCCE Compliance Perspectives podcast.  This piqued my curiosity because I wanted to know if a moral rebel was perceived as a positive.  In the podcast, Amherst College Professor Catherine Sanderson explained that a moral rebel feels comfortable standing up to a crowd and will call out bad behavior. Similarly, Scott A McGreal in Psychology Today wrote moral rebels have a strong sense of moral identity and are more likely to act morally under pressure.  Politics aside, I think we could use more moral rebels right now, especially in our compliance departments.  So, how can moral rebels assist our organizations with compliance? Let’s look at a hypothetical case scenario to find out…

Case Scenario – Chaperone policy

Your organization has chaperone policy which requires a chaperone to accompany the provider and patient for any sensitive examinations involving the genitalia, rectum, groin, buttocks or breasts.  The policy states the chaperone may be a nurse or medical assistant.

From a compliance and risk perspective, the policy has been implemented to protect the patient, the provider and the organization from potential allegations of inappropriate touching.  Education should be done with the providers to ensure the policy is followed regardless of patient and provider gender.  The policy is written this way because the anatomical gender may not reflect the gender a patient ascribes to, relates to, or identifies as.

If a sensitive examination needs to be performed, a chaperone must be present during the examination and their name should be documented in the visit note. If, however, after being educated about the need for a chaperone during the sensitive examination the patient declines a chaperone, this should be witnessed by the provider and another staff member and documented in the visit note by the provider including the name of the staff member who witness chaperon declination.

Potential non-compliance with the chaperone policy

Jesse is a medical assistant who works in a pediatric and adolescent clinic.  Jesse observes a provider who identifies as male take a patient who identifies as female into an examination room alone.  Since Jesse prepped the patient’s chart the night before, Jesse knows the patient is here for abdominal cramps and irregular menstrual bleeding.  Moreover, Jesse prepared the exam room to ensure the provider had a speculum and gel available for a vaginal exam.  During the patient’s visit, Jesse is never called into the room.  While accompanying another patient to the lab for a blood draw, Jesse sees the female patient checking out at the front desk. Jesse wonders who chaperoned the patient’s visit because the only other medical assistant is on lunch break.

Ability to stand up / come forward

In the case scenario above, Jesse would be deemed a moral rebel by speaking up and confirming whether the chaperone policy was followed by the provider.  If uncomfortable discussing with the provider directly, Jesse may report concerns to the nurse manager for follow up. In an organization where moral rebels are valued the nurse manager would support a culture where moral rebels are not afraid to come forward if organization policies are not being followed or there was potential harm to a patient or another staff member.  Moreover, the nurse manager and compliance would ensure there was no retaliation against Jesse.


  1. Educate staff on policies, such as the chaperone policy, and then monitor compliance with that policy.
  2. Foster an environment for moral rebels – individuals who are driven by morals to do the right thing – to bring potential issues to the attention of leadership or compliance without fear of retaliation.
  3. Utilize youCompli to ensure you are up to date on laws, regulations, and reporting related to required compliance policies, such as a chaperone policy.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and owner of Denise Atwood, PLLC
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

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Organization Liability: Impact and Risk Mitigation (Part II)

Impact of Risk Liabilities 

Unmanaged or poorly managed risk can cause devastating effects to the organization from a reputational and financial perspective. 

An extreme example of financial risk, coupled with nationwide reputational risks, was the Tylenol case in the 1980’s. The New York Times describes how, in 1982, Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules were tampered with and laced with potassium cyanide. Seven people in the Chicago area died and copycats caused several more deaths across the U.S. As a result of those incidents, tamper-resistant packaging was created and implemented so over-the-counter products, such as Tylenol, could not unknowingly be laced with a poison which could cause injury or death. 

Despite the fact that the manufacturer had not introduced the poison, this event led to huge financial  and reputational liability for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the makers of Tylenol. On just the financial side, this cost a considerable amount of money due to decreased sales and increased advertising costs. 

As this example demonstrates, financial and reputational risk for an organization in the healthcare field can have disastrous consequences that threaten to bankrupt or put the organization out of business. If the event or incident is sufficiently egregious, the organization could also face loss of accreditation or state licensure. If this happens, they may also lose Medicare and Medicaid contracts.   

Risk Mitigation 

Proactive risk mitigation strategies include transfer of risk, through such vehicles as contracts and insurance, and early reporting of incidents or events by staff. 

Transfer of risk in contracts in typically done with indemnity or hold harmless clause. Transfer of risk via insurance is done by ensuring the organization has adequate coverages and retentions to meet the organization’s needs.  

The intent of an indemnity clause is to transfer the risk of financial loss from one party to the agreement to another party to the agreement. Generally, this is financial losses or expenses caused by contract breach or default, negligence, or misconduct by one of the parties.  

Hold harmless language in the contract states one party will not hold another party responsible for potential risks or damages. Hold harmless clauses can be unilateral and apply to just one of the parties to the contract or can be bilateral and apply to both parties to the contract. Typically, bilateral hold harmless language is preferred for healthcare organization contracts because each party will assume their own risk and not sue the other party to the contract for the risk which was assumed.   

Early reporting by staff is crucial in order to ensure that appropriate action, discussion, documentation and reporting takes place. Most importantly, this is necessary to ensure that risk mitigation strategies can be implemented to eliminate or decrease risk to the organization.   


  1. Develop and conduct risk assessments of insurance policies and large contracts to identify areas for improvement. 
  2. Review contracts to ensure indemnity or hold harmless clauses have been included.  If not, add the clauses on renewal 
  3. Work with Risk Management to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate organization risks and implement mitigation plans.  

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM 

District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.  


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Organization Liability: Types of Risk (Part I)

Risk is an important concept for compliance professionals working in the healthcare space to understand. After all, there are many times where risk and liability have crossover to compliance.

For example, in response to a suspected email or electronic health record breach, compliance and risk professionals will need to work together. This work will include:

  • Evaluating the breach
  • Reporting to the insurance carrier
  • Collaborating with a breach coach or legal team to ensure the investigation meets legal requirements and timelines
  • Collaborating with the information technology team and a forensics firm to ensure risk mitigation strategies are implemented and effective

And so on.

Generally speaking, healthcare compliance professionals should have a good working knowledge of organization risks and liabilities, as well as risk mitigation strategies.

This raises two important questions:

  1. What areas of risk do healthcare organizations face?
  2. What are the potential liabilities related to unmanaged or poorly managed risk?

Areas of Risk for a Healthcare Organization

Areas of risk for a healthcare organization are vast, and can involve injury to persons, property and reputation. Several areas of risk include:

Patient safety risks

These include near misses, which are mistakes which almost make it to the patient, as well as events or incidents that do make it to the patient, causing the patient to experience an unanticipated outcome such as a longer hospital stay, disability or death.
For example, a nurse may realize before giving a vaccine to a child that the adult vaccine and dose was drawn up in the syringe instead of the pediatric vaccine and dosage. This would be a near-miss. Along those same lines, a mistake occurs if the adult vaccine dose is actually administered to the child and an allergic reaction occurs.

Operational risks

These include such things as business interruption or supply chain issues. Business interruption incidents may include fire, flood, or pandemic. If the electronic medical record system goes down, and staff have to chart by hand on paper, this would be a business interruption. Supply chain issues can occur due to higher than normal demand or decrease in output by the manufacturer. If an organization cannot obtain needed supplies – such as hand sanitizer or surgical masks – that would be an example of a supply chain issue.

Legal risks

These typically involve lawsuits filed against the organization. Most commonly, lawsuits result from allegations of inappropriate employment practices or medical negligence or malpractice. For example, if a child had an allergic reaction after receiving an adult dose of a vaccine and unfortunately passed away, the parents may file a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice or negligence on behalf of the organization, the provider or the nurse who administered the incorrect vaccine.

Insurance risks

Insurance risks generally stem from a lack of adequate or appropriate insurance coverage or failure to transfer risk. Insurance risks can also connect to legal risks, which can stem from contracts with inadequate risk transfer or failure to conduct due diligence to vet the vendor. In the case of a pandemic, healthcare and other organizations may not have realized that pandemics and resulting business closures may be excluded from their business interruption insurance policy.

Human capital risks

These encompass the inability to hire, contract or retain appropriately trained staff. A lack of ICU level nurses causing staffing shortages would be an example. Human capital risks can also include professional board or licensing complaints against the organization’s doctors, nurses, therapists, or other licensed staff.

Reputational risks

Reputational risks are often forgotten or invisible to an organization until a bad event happens and it is announced to the public – at which point it is too late.

Reputational risk used to be limited to bad publicity which was published in print or reported on television. However, with the increased acceptance and use of social media, reputational risks are more far-reaching than the local newspaper or evening news program, and could potentially have national reach and negative impact on the organization . A newspaper may not run a story about a child who received an incorrect vaccine, but the child’s mother could post to Facebook or other social media platforms that the organization and providers are terrible and not to be trusted.

Practice Tips:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your insurance broker to evaluate your insurance policies by product line (i.e., general liability, property, cybersecurity, etc.) to ensure the organization is adequately covered to protect against most business losses.
  2. Educate staff to ensure they know how and where to report near-misses and mistakes that occur in the organization.
  3. Work with Risk Management to conduct a risk assessment to evaluate organization risks and implement mitigation plans.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and owner of Denise Atwood, PLLC
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

See YouCompli in Action

Easier, faster, more effective compliance is possible