FAQs for the Volunteer Physician Program
Q. How can I find out if my existing malpractice insurance will cover me when I volunteer?
A. If you work in a larger clinic or healthcare system, talk with the Risk Management or Human Resources department. They should be able to tell you if you’re covered. (Most systems’ malpractice coverage extends to care given as a volunteer.)
If you work in a smaller practice, your insurance broker can check your coverage and let you know.
Q. What if I’m not covered by my regular malpractice insurance? Can I still volunteer as a physician?
A. Yes. In most cases, the clinic or organization where you will volunteer can cover your work, either through their existing insurance program, or through the State of Minnesota’s Volunteer Health Care Providers program. Check with the clinic.
Can I volunteer in my own office?
Q: Because of my specialty, much of my clinical work requires particular equipment. Can I provide care as a volunteer in my own office?
A: Yes. Community clinics often see patients who require subspecialty care. Referral arrangements for volunteer specialists are needed for a variety of services. Check volunteer opportunities for an up-to-date listing.
Q. Do I need to commit to specific days or hours, or is there flexibility?
A. Like all clinics, there is a need for adequate coverage, but there can be flexibility. Some opportunities are during the workday, but many of the clinics need extra support during evenings to cover vacations and other activities. Clinics are happy to find times that match your volunteer availability with clinic needs.
Q. Do I need to be re-credentialed by the state or health plans to see patients at the community clinics?
A. If you are not currently credentialed, the staff at the volunteer site will work with you to obtain the credentialing you will need. It is assumed that if you are already credentialed by the state and health plans that you will be approved to provide care at one of the community clinics. It is mainly an issue for Medicaid payment at the clinics and not an issue when seeing the uninsured. All volunteers need to talk with the clinic management regarding the timing of the credentialing approval.
The credentialing process need not be complicated or lengthy, but it is important and a necessary step that requires collaboration by both clinic and volunteer.
One knowledgeable clinic leader offered these insights:
A Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) is required to credential any providers serving its patients; even if the provider has been approved in a credentialing process through other providers or health plans. This isn’t a complicated process, but the volunteer will also have to go through a health plan contracting step. Assuming they already participate with the health plans, it’s likely that this process would be pretty easy, as we’d only be adding a location for the already-credentialed/contracted provider. (Thanks to Steven J. Knutson, Executive Director, Neighborhood HealthSource)
Training and Medical Records
Q. Every clinic operates differently and their medical records system is unique. Will I receive training prior to seeing patients?
A. Yes, it is essential that you understand how the clinic operates, the staff and their roles and how to use the medical record system. Clinics will provide a thorough orientation providing an overview of the clinic flow, staff responsibilities, the medical record system and other clinic systems prior to you seeing patients.
Some volunteer sites can provide scribes. Check with the clinic.
Other Volunteer Opportunities
Q. I am interested in reviewing volunteer opportunities that are not clinic related. How can I learn if the MMAF has non-clinical volunteer opportunities available?
A. The listings on this website include all volunteer opportunities of which MMAF has been made aware.
Q. Does the non-compete clause in my employment contract prevent me from volunteering2?
A. The Physician Volunteerism Program Advisory Panel, made up of active physician volunteers and clinic administrators, discussed non-compete clauses early in the development of PVP. None had ever heard of a physician being blocked from volunteering because of a non-compete clause. In fact, they agreed, most employers value employees who contribute to the community by volunteering, as it reflects well on the employer, too.
However, we recently became aware of one instance a few years ago when a non-compete clause was invoked to prevent a physician from volunteering. Generally, providing medical services in the physician’s specialty is the type of work that a non-compete is intended to prevent from happening, even if it’s done as a volunteer. So, we took the question to the MMA’s legal counsel for an opinion.
We did some research and found this:
- There are no specific statutes or rules in Minnesota that address non-compete clauses.
- Minnesota case law, from court judgements in law suits that address non-compete clauses, is also relatively thin regarding the use of non-competes to prevent volunteering. Of all non-compete cases, few actually go to trial, and none we are aware of has actually dealt with an employee providing services, much less health care services, on a volunteer basis.
That said, we recommend a common sense approach. Share your volunteer plans with your supervisor. If you think the non-compete clause in your contract might apply to your volunteer situation, check with the HR department, and tell them what you have in mind. If you are retired and are worried that your non-compete might apply to volunteering, it’s best to consult an attorney. Sometimes a former employer will be flexible if approached properly. Hopefully both former and current employers will applaud your community spirit!
1The purpose of a non-compete clause is to prevent an employee from taking business (patients, in the case of physicians) away from the employer to a competing business. The patients seen in a volunteer setting are almost certainly there because they do not have access to other care or, in some cases, like a community health clinic or other sliding-scale health care setting, that’s where the patient usually goes for their regular health care.
2Non-compete clauses are generally not intended to address an employee’s volunteer activities. However, if the contract doesn’t specifically say that the non-compete clause does not apply volunteer work, it’s best to check first.
Watch this site for the latest news, as MMAF’s Physician Volunteerism Program continues to add features, update volunteer opportunities, and include more useful content and inspirational stories. If you do not find an opportunity that meets your interest or you have other ideas, please contact Kristen Gloege, MMAF CEO or call her at 612-362-3742.