Healthcare Personnel Pitfalls: Avoiding 3 Key Blunders in Employee Screenings

Updated on December 12, 2023
The Duties and Responsibilities of a Physician Assistant

Hiring can be dangerous, and in the healthcare industry, it could even be a matter of life and death. Background checks substantially help mitigate risk by evaluating various sources to confirm that a candidate is who they claim to be, and that who they claim to be is indeed fit for the role in question.

Background checks have become a nearly universal practice— with 94% of American employers conducting them in some form or another—and with basic screening in place, a company may feel that the crisis has successfully been averted.

But there are other dangers, too; the process of hiring can consume substantial amounts of time and resources. Failing to identify unsuitable candidates in a timely manner will result in malinvestment, even if the candidate is never hired. 

More concerning yet is the threat of litigation that results from negligence or malpractice in running background checks; over 5,500 separate lawsuits were filed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 2022, according to WebRecon.

And yet, hiring remains a top priority. As disconcerting as the stakes may be, properly carrying out background checks is a necessary and ultimately rewarding effort. The good news, of course, is that no one is truly in the dark; every mistake has already been made, and today’s healthcare organizations need only to avoid the mistakes of the past. For that reason, the three most common errors that firms make when running background checks are discussed below.

#1  Falling Into Litigation Traps

Litigation is by far the greatest concern for any healthcare employer hoping to carry out a background check. Employers should ensure full understanding of and compliance with both local and federal legislation long before even designing their policy (see no. 2), not to mention running an actual check.

Laws governing the hiring process will vary widely based on location and the nature of the position. They tend to specify certain aspects of the procedure, such as information that must be communicated to candidates throughout the screening process. Restrictions and regulations on using acquired data are also common, with consideration of marijuana use or criminal backgrounds being notable examples.

Whatever the particulars may be, any given healthcare organization will be subject to a specific, often unique, set of laws. Failure to understand and adhere to such legislation may expose a firm to potential lawsuits, which can easily cost millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. When it comes to the law, due diligence is always due.

#2 Fluctuating Policies

Oftentimes, approaching the screening process on a case-by-case basis is the path of least resistance. While each position should be given unique consideration—such as the particular legislation for that field of work—improvisation will always land a firm in deep water. Having a flexible, yet thorough, background check policy is imperative for this reason.

The greatest concern here is that lack of consistency increases the likelihood of legal negligence. Without a pre-decided policy, it is much easier for an employer to disregard certain legal guidelines or restrictions that might otherwise be detailed in a well-prepared plan. Once such a policy has been created, staying aligned with the law is merely a matter of ensuring that it remains up-to-date. 

Another serious concern is that an unorganized background check will always lack the efficiency of a carefully designed workflow. Organizing how screenings and communications, among other things, will take place ensures that a firm’s background check does not waste resources. Healthcare organizations must also have clear guidelines for documenting every step of this workflow so that there can be no ambiguity in the case of a lawsuit.  

#3 Vague Hiring Standards

Finally, healthcare organizations often try to quicken the screening process by passing all candidates through the same filter. The faults with such an approach are, however, obvious. Unclear criteria will consistently deny competent workers where parameters are too strict, and allow unsuitable workers where parameters are too loose. When designing their policy, therefore, organizations must set job-specific criteria.

The first criteria to consider are criminal backgrounds, because—yet again—the law must be considered first and foremost. Legislation will often regulate which workers can be employed in certain fields, such as working with children, based on criminal records. While background checks in the healthcare industry are more extensive than in most other industries, some offenses should not disqualify candidates for certain positions. While a DUI charge may disqualify an ambulance driver, for example, it should not necessarily do the same for a custodian or a receptionist.

Firms should then consider non-criminal criteria. These may consist of a range of items, from work experience and licensing to references and referrals. While there is not much flexibility here, organizations must decide for themselves where to set the bar for each position—something that may change with the job market. Firms would do well to make such decisions moderately and never to stoop below their own pre-set standards.

Final Verdict

The process of screening candidates for hire is not simple in the healthcare industry, after all, it is a matter of life and death. With legal and economic concerns around every corner, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. When taken into account, these mistakes can not only be carefully avoided but can guide a firm in executing robust background checks that offer peace of mind and allow its workforce to prosper.

Jeff Ernste
Jeff Ernste

Jeff Ernste is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer with Minneapolis-based Orange Tree Employment Screening. For more than 30 years, Orange Tree has provided technology-enabled background screening, drug testing, and occupational health services for clients nationwide. More info at