Whether you are new to the field of optometry or have many years of experience under your belt, there’s no doubt about the fact that even the most skilled professionals will sometimes make mistakes. Optometry comes with its own set of unique risks, and as technology improves in the field, the likelihood of malpractice only increases. Malpractice insurance also referred to as professional liability insurance, is an important and practical investment that can provide you and your practice with priceless peace of mind and financial and legal protection in the likely event of a claim made against you.
However, selecting the right malpractice or professional liability insurance for your optometry practice is not so straightforward, as not all types of professional liability insurance provide the same coverage and your needs will depend on specific factors. When making a decision as important as this, you need to do your research, be fully informed, and know where to go for support.
We care deeply about our community of optometrist professionals, so we put together this article to help introduce you to optometry malpractice insurance, understand why it’s so important, choose a policy that ensures you’re adequately protected, and offer support in case you need it.
Introduction to Optometry Malpractice Insurance
Simply put, malpractice insurance, also known as professional liability insurance, protects you from the risk of malpractice claims and lawsuits. Malpractice insurance gives you the confidence to practice and deliver the best care possible, knowing that no matter how diligent you are, things can and will go wrong at times. Generally speaking, malpractice insurance will protect you from claims resulting from common mistakes, such as failure to make a referral or follow-up with a patient leading to a delayed or incorrect diagnosis, for example. It’s important to note that malpractice insurance, of course, does not cover negligence due to illegal conduct, intentionally harmful treatment, or other illegal behaviors. Unlike other forms of insurance, such as car insurance, malpractice insurance is not legally required in the field of optometry; however, it is considered very risky and unwise to go without it. Furthermore, it is required in order to become affiliated with some medical and vision plans.
Read more in the sections below to understand why optometry professional liability insurance is such a crucial investment for you and your practice.
Importance of Optometrist Insurance
No doctor, no matter how experienced or skilled, is immune to the risk of malpractice. Even if you are diligent and follow all best practice recommendations to minimize medicolegal risk, it can never be fully eliminated. In fact, studies show that over the course of a 35-year career, 95% of ophthalmologists will have at least one claim filed against them, and more than 50% will face two or three claims. Whether you’re at fault or not, and whether the claim results in a payout or not, being sued is a significant inconvenience that takes a financial and emotional toll on you and your practice. In the most serious cases, being sued for malpractice can result in million-dollar payouts and put an end to your career. Malpractice insurance is crucial in protecting your practice and staff in the likely event of a claim eventually being filed against you.
Typically, malpractice insurance will cover at least the cost of a suit brought against you by a winning plaintiff (up to your maximum coverage), and also pay for legal representation. Depending on the type and level of coverage you purchase, professional liability may also cover additional costs, such as administrative defenses, lost income, or a substitute optometrist, to name a few.
Put simply, optometry malpractice insurance allows you to practice with more confidence and peace of mind — a priceless investment.
Key Considerations For Optometry Malpractice Insurance
Not all professional liability insurance is created equal; some malpractice coverage options are more comprehensive than others. Every practice is different, with unique needs and circumstances, so the best malpractice insurance for you will depend on specific factors. It’s also important to note that standard professional liability insurance for small businesses may be insufficient for optometry practices. It’s recommended that you invest in malpractice insurance specifically designed to address the risks faced by optometrists, and by your specific practice specialties.
When selecting a malpractice policy, you should pay careful attention to two key liability limits:
- The individual limit: this is the maximum dollar amount the insurance company will pay per claim during the policy year.
- The aggregate limit: This is the maximum dollar amount the insurance company will pay for all claims during the policy year.
Limits can be shared or separate. A shared limit is one where you and your corporation share your limits of liability, while a separate limit is one where your corporation has an additional limit of liability, equal to yours but separate, which will likely increase your premium amount.
Additionally, be sure to check whether your professional liability insurance covers all your practice’s staff members, including any medical students and associates that may be working with you. If your practice operates in multiple locations, make sure your policy covers all locations.
There are many malpractice insurance carriers available and we recommend obtaining detailed quotes from multiple carriers (at least three) for comparison purposes. Below are some key questions to help you narrow down your search and find the right optometry practice insurance for your practice:
- What liability limits should you look for? What limits are best for you and your practice?
- Is the insurance carrier familiar with the field of optometry and are they able to handle claims against optometrists?
- Does the policy cover all services under the scope of practice in your state?
- Does the policy cover your entire practice, including all your staff members and places of work?
- Does the policy grow along with your practice?
- Does the policy protect your personal assets as well, or will you need a separate policy for that?
- Do you qualify for any discounts?
In reviewing quotes, you should pay special attention to any exclusions included in the policy. Some can be left open to interpretation, so be sure to ask for clarification wherever needed. In some cases, policies may not cover every procedure that is part of your state’s defined scope of practice, so pay close attention to this too.
It’s important to note that instant online quotes are not always the most accurate. They often do not take into account the specific risks associated with your practice and may leave you with inadequate coverage. That’s why some optometrists choose to work with an independent agent and/or talk with a professional optometry consultant.
How Much Does Optometry Malpractice Insurance Cost?
Are you worried about the cost of malpractice insurance? Fortunately, professional liability insurance or malpractice insurance for optometrists is typically much less expensive than for many other medical specialties, typically costing less than $1,000 per year and as little as $500 per year. For other medical offices, the cost is often in the thousands.
The actual price of your malpractice insurance will depend on several factors though, such as your location (prices can vary by state) and the type and level of coverage you choose. Keep in mind that discounts are sometimes offered to recent graduates and new doctors.
What is Optometry Liability Insurance?
Malpractice insurance is certainly not the only kind of insurance you’ll need to consider. Malpractice insurance, or professional liability insurance, is not the same thing as general liability insurance.
It’s important to note that some places of employment require both professional and general liability insurance. More often though, it’s left up to you whether you want to add general liability insurance on top of your professional liability insurance, so it’s important that you understand what each type of insurance does and does not cover.
What Does Optometry Liability Insurance Cover?
As outlined above, professional liability insurance covers more abstract risks, such as negligence related to the professional services and treatments you provide to patients.
General liability insurance, on the other hand, covers more concrete risks, such as physical injury to people or damage to property arising from your daily operations as an optometrist. General liability insurance can also help protect your practice from reputational harm or advertising errors/copyright infringement.
How Much Does General Liability Insurance Cost?
As with other types of insurance, the cost of general liability insurance for optometrists will vary depending on the following factors:
- The location of your practice,
- The insurance provider you choose,
- Your history with claims and losses,
- Any risks associated with your practice type or specialty,
- The size of your business and the number of employees you have,
- Hours you typically work and number of patients you see,
- Whether you qualify for any discounts, such as “new doctor discounts,”
- The policy limits, and
- The type and level of coverage you choose, among others.
To give you a more specific idea of the cost though, according to one insurance provider, the median cost of general liability insurance is about $35 per month or $420 per year for optometrists, even less than professional liability insurance.
Keep in mind, some providers offer bundle options that combine multiple types of insurance you need for a lower price, so be sure to look into this if you are investing in more comprehensive coverage.
Additional Types of Optometry Insurance
Beyond the two primary types of insurance, professional and general liability insurance, there are additional types to consider, which include (but are not limited to):
- Cyber liability insurance to protect you and your patients against data breaches,
- Business owners insurance to protect your office and equipment (this is typically a bundle of both commercial general liability and property insurance),
- Employment practices liability insurance to protect your practice from employment claims,
- Workers compensation insurance to pay for lost income and medical expenses for employees who are injured on the job (this type of insurance is usually required by law),
- Commercial auto to cover any vehicles you use for your business,
- Commercial property insurance to protect you from damage to your property, and
- Business interruption insurance to protect you from loss of income due to temporary closure of your practice.
Again, some optometry insurance carriers have options to bundle or package various types of insurance, which can help save you money.
Recap of Optometry Malpractice Insurance and Optometry Liability Insurance
As you can see, choosing the best optometry malpractice insurance or professional liability insurance for your practice can be complicated, yet is absolutely essential to protect you and your business, and give you the peace of mind and confidence you need. Even if you never end up using your malpractice insurance, which is statistically unlikely, the emotional benefits will surely make the investment worthwhile. You’ll be able to practice with the confidence and security you need.
If choosing the best optometry malpractice insurance seems overwhelming, you may want to work with a professional optometry consultant or advisor who can help you review policies and make recommendations. Seeking the advice and assistance of an experienced professional in this area is the best way to ensure that you and your practice are fully and adequately protected. A professional consultant can also offer you suggestions and best practice tips for preventing malpractice from happening in the first place — which should, of course, be the goal.
PECAA is the nation’s premier Doctor Alliance Group and was created to promote and protect independent eye care professionals. We are here to help you through all the complexities and challenges that come with running your own optometry practice, including finding the right insurance coverage. We offer our members countless benefits, including business consulting, billing and coding support, training and education, professional networking opportunities, marketing support, HR support, group buying power, and much, much more.
Become a member of PECAA today and we’ll be there to support you along each and every step of your career in optometry!
*Please note that the information provided to you via this article are suggestions and should not be taken as legal advice.