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Learning compliance and risk through the movies

Denise Atwood ( is Chief Risk Officer and Isabella Porter ( is Compliance Manager at District Medical Group in Phoenix, AZ.

Upon hearing the following questions and comments, many healthcare compliance and risk professionals feel like they are reliving every day, like in the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell:

“Can you get this back to me by close of business today? It’s kind of important.”

(But you know your colleague had two weeks to prepare.)

“I did not know that was a requirement…”

(Yet your colleague did not reach out to your department in advance.)

“Industry standard/best practices say otherwise.”

(But your colleague does not bring any materials or references to support this statement.)

“That’s not our responsibility!”

(However, compliance and risk is everyone’s responsibility in the organization.)

And, of course, “It wasn’t my fault.”

(To which we often reply, “The goal here is not to place fault, but to learn from the experience and address the issue so it does not happen again.”)

Many of us hear these phrases so often, we are tempted to jot them on a piece of paper to play a cynical version of Whose Line is it Anyway? The catch is, when these phrases enter the healthcare organization or environment with a certain intensity and uncomfortable frequency, you just might be seeing the initial warnings signs of an impending catastrophe, like in the 2013 sci-fi movie Sharknado.

Apart from being the movie selected on a dull Sunday afternoon, from a compliance and risk perspective, a “sharknado” is a series of difficult predicaments that coagulates into one complex, high-risk crisis that requires an immediate hands-on resolution. Before reaching for that proverbial chainsaw and rushing out into battle, it is essential to remember that sharknados require a high degree of preparation before taking drastic compliance or risk action. Thorough preparation is an excellent tool to avert such high-risk disasters, because it inevitably forces an organization to operate in a more proactive mind-set as opposed to a reactive one. Ideally, compliance and risk professionals’ preparation should include:

  • Understanding applicable regulations, laws, and requirements;

  • Assessing standard practice in the community;

  • Coordinating the appropriate resources; and

  • Applying the ethical principles.

In consideration of comprehensive preparation, or the deus ex machina to any catastrophe, we will examine the five quintessential predicaments that commonly consolidate to form this mega crisis, before illustrating a combination of them in common scenarios. It is our goal to examine each of these high-risk quandaries in action, so compliance and risk professionals can consider their own plans for preparation in order to effectively avoid and resolve these situations as they arise. Unfortunately, in the world of compliance and risk, resolving high-stake dilemmas is not a matter of if, rather it is a matter of when.

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