by Ben Gichner of Benchmark Legal
Legally, you shouldn’t be calling it anything else. From energy balancing to touch and sensation services, more and more people are beginning to find comfort in alternative health services.
Even some doctors and licensed professionals are beginning to adopt a more holistic and integrative approach to medicine. But if you’re not practicing medicine and not licensed to practice it you should be very careful in protecting yourself and your clients.
As states and courts have said time and time again, the point of the medical licensing law is to protect individuals from fraud and fake medicine. Most courts have had no trouble finding in favor of plaintiffs when the defendant’s practice might have been viewed as one practicing medicine by a reasonable person.
Protecting yourself in the alternative health industry takes a keen understanding of where the licensing requirements begin and how tort and other laws work together.
Starting an Alternative Health Business
First, you should be sure if you need a license in Washington State. You’ll need a license if you practice medicine, which includes anyone who “offers or undertakes to diagnose, cure, advise, or prescribe for any human disease, ailment, injury, infirmity, deformity, pain or other condition, physical or mental, real or imaginary, by any means or instrumentality.”
If you’re not practicing medicine or providing hands-on services, the process for setting up an alternative health business in Washington State is similar to a traditional business, but with a few critical additions.
You’ll still need to incorporate your practice, obtain necessary licenses and permits, and work with insurance providers to maintain liability protection. But there are some industry-specific requirements you should know about before starting the process. For example, if you’re opening a naturopathic practice, you will need to have a license.
What’s the Difference between Treatment and Health?
In Washington state, naturopaths must be licensed because they practice medicine and engage in diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. This means someone cannot use the title, Naturopath or N.D. without first qualifying and for and receiving a license issued by Washington State.
However, there’s a big difference between a naturopath who practices alternative medicine and someone who practices energy balancing. The energy balancer doesn’t claim to diagnosis, advise, or treat any medical conditions. The energy balancer also makes it clear that her services are for enjoyment or recreation only and doesn’t touch her clients.
If you’re physically touching anyone else, you’ll need to be licensed as a massage practitioner or other health professional or ordained as a minister. At the very least, you’ll need informed consent from your clients.
In Washington State, RCW 18.71.011 provides a good start for figuring out if you’re practicing medicine or simply providing recreational services.
What does HIPAA mean for my business?
As an alternative health specialist, you should know and understand the scope of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
If you’re not practicing medicine, you probably won’t be getting healthcare information or billing insurance companies and HIPAA may not apply to you. However, some of HIPAA’s ideas are also good for protecting your own client files.
Generally, HIPAA protects an individual’s healthcare information from being disclosed without their consent. For healthcare providers covered by HIPAA like doctors, hospitals, chiropractors, and pharmacies, this means certain policies have to be in place when healthcare information, like your primary physician’s file on you, is transmitted to other people.
Client Agreements and Disclosure Forms
To protect yourself and your clients, you should start with a sound client agreement that clearly explains that your services are recreational or religious, that you don’t provide medical advice, and much more.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply take cash and provide services. You must let clients know what to expect and what not to expect. This aspect of setting up your business requires a deeper understanding of tort, contract, and even constitutional law.
And even if you have the best agreements, you still can’t let the public think you practice medicine or any type of healing or provision of medical advice. You have to know the scope and limitations of your practice and the best way to do that is to hire an attorney that’s seen it before.
Operating the Business
Running an alternative health business is similar to running a traditional business in some ways.
Some people operate their businesses out of their home. If you’re a home business, you’ll probably want to check on insurance for your home or apartment. You should also have professional liability insurance in case of claims by your client.
You’ll need to keep good records of all of your client intake, disclosure, and informed consent forms. You’ll also need to keep track of your licensing and certifications for hands-on work as well as maintain business licenses and keep up with taxes.
The most important thing to remember is that your business is a reflection of you. If you don’t protect it properly, you may be opening yourself up to unnecessary liability.
If you have questions on the above or would like more tips on legally protecting your business, visit www.benchmark.legal.
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