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Volunteer Doctors Need to Check Liability Coverage

Immunity laws vary by state; liability policies vary coverage outside of regular practice

FRIDAY, Sept. 18, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians who volunteer their medical expertise should consider their legal risks, according to an article published online Sept. 3 in Medical Economics.

The Volunteer Protection Act provides a national minimum standard for immunity, but the law varies in each state. "Good Samaritan" laws are designed to apply in situations of immediate danger, not cases of ongoing volunteering. Traveling to provide medical support at events or for teams also poses legal challenges, as different states have different requirements -- ranging from not allowing out-of-state physicians to practice at all to allowing them to care for their team in another state.

While experts say lawsuits against volunteer physicians are rare, they are possible. Practicing in "makeshift" environments poses more difficult circumstances than normal practice because of minimal medical equipment and supplies on hand and no access to patient histories. A physician's regular insurance may not cover these situations.

"Volunteers can't assume insurance at their workplace will cover outside activities. It likely would not unless arrangements are made," Lisa Carron Shmerling, J.D., M.P.H., executive director of The Maven Project -- the Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network, said in the article.

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