The Best Background Check Practices in Healthcare

busy hospital corridorHealthcare is an industry in which safety and trust are at stake with every hire. Strong background check policies ensure that only top professionals are entrusted with the care of patients.

In any industry, failure to run background checks can be catastrophic. From lawsuits to reputational damage, a company takes major risks when it opts not to run background checks on its prospective employees. In the healthcare field, the stakes are especially high. What healthcare workers do on the job can affect whether patients live or die. Since many patients are in extremely vulnerable states when being cared for by healthcare workers, they are easy targets for thieves and abusers. And since healthcare employees often work with controlled substances, drug addiction is another major concern.

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Creating a Sufficient Background Check Policy for a Healthcare Organization

The life or death stakes of healthcare make it particularly important for organizations to take their time and follow best practices when establishing employee background check processes. Background check policies will vary from one organization to the next depending on the type of care being provided. In most cases, the following practices should figure into a healthcare organization’s employee screening policy.

  • Use license verifications: In many states, doctors and nurses must pass background checks to obtain licenses. In most cases, healthcare workers must also hold licenses in the state where they wish to work in order to work there (though the Nurse Licensure Compact is an exception to this rule). Because of these factors, you can eliminate a lot of liability by verifying that your candidates hold valid licenses and are considered in good standing by the state licensing board.
  • Verify education: There are some industries or job fields in which education eventually stops carrying as much weight as other aspects of the resume. Healthcare is not one of those industries. A doctor needs to complete medical school and receive a Doctor of Medicine to practice in the fields. Other healthcare professionals often have rigorous educational requirements as well. Reaching out to medical schools, universities or colleges to verify education history is an essential step in any healthcare background check.
  • Run identity verifications and alias searches: While it is more difficult for healthcare workers to practice under false identities due to the licensing requirements for most jobs in the field, deception isn’t unheard of. Healthcare organizations should use alias checks — usually by way of Social Security Number searches — to dig up any alternative names that an employee or applicant might have used in the past. This process should include maiden names. Running background checks on each alias can increase your organization’s chances of finding well-hidden red flags.
  • Be comprehensive with your criminal checks: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that one criminal search is enough to uncover a person’s entire background. Even for healthcare professionals, there is no national database of criminal history information. You must review multiple sources to get a full picture of a person’s past. The county level is a good place to start, as county criminal records usually provide the most granular level of detail. Run a county criminal check in the area where your hospital or healthcare business is located. Using state criminal repositories and multi-jurisdictional databases can expand your search efficiently. Consider running address histories on your candidates and then ordering county criminal checks in each of those locations. Most crimes are committed close to where the perpetrator lives or has lived, so going right to the county courthouses will give you the best chance of finding criminal records.
  • Check disciplinary databases (if they are available): Doctors and other healthcare professionals who have been disciplined by a state board may be risky hires. As such, it is a good idea to check disciplinary databases if any are available. For instance, Oklahoma has a database with which employers can search doctors by name to see if they have ever been disciplined by the state’s Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision.
  • Check health inclusion lists: Disciplinary actions from state boards aren’t the only sanctions that doctors and nurses can face. Government departments will sometimes exclude medical professionals from participating in programs like Medicare and Medicaid, or sanction them in other ways. The Office of the Inspector General maintains a List of Excluded Individuals/Entities and other exclusions databases. Your organization should search these databases to avoid unknowingly hiring a sanctioned doctor. Even if the sanctions have nothing to do with crime or unsafe behavior, they can still create issues for your organization’s billing, patient treatment, and government reimbursement processes.
  • Reach out to previous employers: The importance of checking employment history is twofold for healthcare professionals. First, the step can verify that the applicant is telling the truth on his or her resume. Second, speaking with former employers might help you uncover issues about an applicant that you would never learn otherwise. Hospitals and other healthcare businesses are very limited in what they can reveal about former employees, but reference checks are worthwhile just in case there is something to be found.
  • Run drug tests: Substance abuse is a problem in any profession, but it can be particularly catastrophic in a healthcare environment. When under the influence of drugs or alcohol, healthcare workers are more likely to make mistakes that cost patients their lives or drastically impair their quality of life. Since healthcare workers have easier access to addictive substances than individuals in most other professions, drug tests and substance abuse screening are doubly important.


These steps do not represent what a comprehensive healthcare background check will look like end-to-end, but these steps do outline important best practices for healthcare background checks. They should all be considered as your organization begins to sketch out its screening policies. Your screenings might also include driving history checks (for ambulance drivers) or credit history checks (for individuals in charge of billing and payment matters). Take care to comply with all laws and regulations for conducting background checks and taking adverse employment action based on findings.

MORE: Why a Social Media Background Check Is Invaluable In the Recruitment Process

Michael Klazema

Michael Klazema
Michael Klazema has been developing products for the background screening industry since 2009 and is lead author and editor for a background checks community.

Michael Klazema

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