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Dietitians and nutritionists provide important services within the health profession, promoting health and managing medical conditions in hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, amongst the general public. The service that dietitians and nutritionists provide is based on professional advice. While this advice may take on many forms, it is a service based on counselling and instruction using learned knowledge. Because of this, dietitians and nutritionists face many liability risks when it comes to providing their services to clients.

Liability Risks for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Because dietitians and nutritionists provide health-related advice, there is a lot of room for miscommunication or misunderstandings, perceived negligence or harm as a result of advice, as well as mistakes. Often, factors beyond your control may negatively impact the health of your client – yet you can be held liable. Here are some situations you could encounter in your professional career:

  • Decline in a client’s health after utilizing your services
  • Administrative errors
  • No change in a client’s condition or a lack of results after utilizing your services

Some clients may go as far as to launch a malpractice suit or claim your professional advice or failure to provide it caused them harm. This includes accusations of negligence, misrepresentation, failure to provide a service, breach of privacy, and more.

This all sounds a bit scary, right? So what can you do to reduce liability risks? Don’t worry, there are a few ways that you can protect yourself.

How to Reduce Liability Risks for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Here are a few ways to reduce the risk of legal action being taken against you:

  1. Define the scope of practice.
  2. Practice excellent communication and documentation.
  3. Adhere to the guidelines of the regulatory body.
  4. Identify risks and remedy them before they’re an issue.
  5. Avoid misrepresentation in marketing.
  6. Protect yourself with liability insurance.

Define the Scope of Practice

For a dietitian or nutritionist, this means defining the scope of the work you’re going to do. While this is legally determined by the government and/or governing bodies of your profession, you can also develop your own scope of practice, including what areas you plan on specializing in and what advice, actions, and processes you’re comfortable with providing.

Defining the scope of practice for a dietitian and nutritionists helps you avoid situations where you are out of your depth. These situations are often riskier when it comes to liability as you are more likely to make a mistake or have a client claim there was harm due to your advice.

Practice Excellent Communication and Documentation

Honest and clear communication with clients helps foster good relationships and leaves less chance for misunderstandings. Check in with your client to ensure they truly understand your advice. It’s also important to not misrepresent the outcomes of your recommendations.

Documentation may be required by law, but it can also help protect you in the event there is a lawsuit. Always record the date and time of communication along with what was discussed. Be as detailed as possible.

Adhere to the Guidelines of the Regulatory Bodies

Dietitians and nutritionists are accountable to their provincial regulatory body, which provides standards of ethics and education for professionals. These regulations safeguard the public and serve as a baseline for client complaints and what can be classed as malpractice.

For example, the Alberta College of Dietitians and the Government of Alberta govern regulations and standards of practice for dietitians and nutritionists in Alberta. The former provides an excellent course on current regulations and practices. This is an excellent way to inform yourself and mitigate any liability risks for your dietitian or nutritionist practice. The Dietitians of Canada also has excellent resources.

Identify Risks and Remedy Them

Identify areas of your business that could result in potential lawsuits. You can then take steps to reduce the risk, whether that be through improving your processes or taking action to protect your business, your clients, and yourself.

For example, client confidentiality is essential. Failure to keep this could result in a lawsuit. You can ensure steps are taken to protect your client’s private information, including implementing a password policy, anti-malware software, firewalls, backing up information, and keeping physical checks between the information and the general public (such as locked doors). You could also implement client identification practices if the client reaches out to you over the phone or email. Keep in mind that there may be provincial and national rules for client confidentiality, as well.

Avoid Misrepresentation in Marketing

Be realistic and honest in your marketing; over-promising or lying can result in lawsuits. You must also be very careful to use the appropriate title. For example, some health professions have protected titles which communicate that they have received a certain level of education and practice in accordance with a regulatory body. This may vary from province to province. For example, in Alberta, the following are protected titles:

  • Registered Dietitian
  • Registered Nutritionist
  • RD
  • Dietitian
  • Nutritionist
  • Provisional Dietitian
  • Dietetic Intern

If you call yourself a dietitian or nutritionist but are not regulated by your provincial body, you could be held liable for misrepresentation. Other nutritional professionals like Registered Holistic Nutritionists and Certified Nutritional Practitioners need to be clear about their level of education and certification with clients so as to avoid misinformation and lawsuits.

Protect Yourself with Liability Insurance for Dietitians and Nutritionists

You can be held liable for harm caused to a client as a result of your professional service or advice. Even if you’re not at fault, you’ll still need to pay expensive legal fees to defend yourself. Professional liability insurance helps cover these expenses, including defence costs, settlements and awards, up to your policy limit.

Your commercial general liability insurance policy won’t cover these types of situations; nor will any private practice work be covered if you’re employed by a hospital. As lawsuits can be astronomically expensive, it’s important for your financial security and peace of mind that you’re protected.

EasyCover Canada provides affordable, comprehensive liability insurance for dietitians and nutritionists. Get a quote today or give us a call to have your questions answered by insurance experts.