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Professional Indemnity Insurance for Dietitians

Written by

Shaun McGowan

As an Accredited Practicing Dietitian in Australia you are a highly qualified professional with knowledge and skills your clients do not possess. This means that your clients have a legal right to rely on the expert advice you give them, and to expect you to provide your services to a high professional standard.

Your work may include:

  • Assessing your client’s health, lifestyle and existing diet.
  • Developing individual meal plans to suit your clients’ needs, budget and preferences and help them meet their goals.
  • Providing advice on healthy eating and nutritional requirements.
  • Monitoring the impact of your advice and making adjustments to your clients’ diet if required.
  • Providing individual or group education sessions for children and adults on healthy eating and good nutrition.
  • Using an elimination diet to identify food intolerances or allergies and advising on suitable replacement foods.
  • Providing specialised advice on how to manage specific health conditions or symptoms through diet.

Like any other health practitioner there is always a risk that a client will be unhappy with the outcome of your advice, and decide to file a law suit against you. Their claims could include:

  • You made a mistake in your assessment of their health and condition or in the diet you recommended
  • Following your advice or diet plan made their health, symptoms or condition worse
  • Following your advice or diet plan caused them physical harm
  • You breached their privacy by sharing information about them with a third party without their permission
  • You did not provide the service you advertised (your advice failed to work)

Why do Dietitians need professional indemnity insurance?

Dietitians are not required to be registered in order to practice in Australia. However in lieu of the type of statutory requirements that govern the practice of many other fields of medicine, the Australian Federal Government has approved the use of the Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) credential. Without this credential you cannot register as a practitioner with the Health Insurance Commission (HIC), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) or private health funds.

The APD is regulated by the Dietitians’ Association of Australia, which imposes strict requirements regarding qualifications, ongoing professional development and ethical conduct. The Dietitian Scope of Practice Framework requires that Dietitians only undertake activities that are covered by their professional indemnity insurance policy.

These requirements exist to protect both you and your clients, by ensuring that funds will be available to cover any damages you have to pay should you make a mistake and cause harm or financial loss to a client during the course of your work.

In addition to the requirements of the DAA, there are many reasons why you need to protect yourself with professional indemnity insurance if you are offering your services as a Dietitian. Here are some of them:

  • If a patient experiences a worsening of their health or medical condition or develops new symptoms after taking your advice they may blame you for this outcome. It may be very difficult to establish what the outcome might have been for them if they had not consulted you (and therefore to ascertain whether or not their claims are justified), especially if they are undergoing any other form of treatment whilst following your recommendations.
  • If a client’s health or medical condition does not improve as a result of following your advice they may claim that you have failed to deliver the expected level of service. Since personal appearance and physical health can have a severe impact on a client’s confidence and self-esteem, errors or inappropriate advice can lead to considerable emotional distress, meaning a client is more likely to take action if they are unhappy with the outcome of your advice.
  • In the course of your work you are likely to collect a range of personal information about your clients. You have a strict duty to keep this information confidential, which means that if you share it with a third party without the permission of your client (even by accident) they could take legal action against you for breach of privacy.
  • Like any other health practitioner your reputation is a valuable asset that you rely on to attract business. If a client makes a negligence claim against you, even if that claim is unfounded, you will need to defend that claim in order to protect your reputation. Legal fees can run to tens of thousands of dollars, even when a law suit is ultimately dismissed.
  • Your personal assets, such as your home, are at stake as well as your business assets should a client decide to sue you for professional negligence.

What does professional indemnity insurance cover?

Your public liability insurance will protect you if a client has an accident on your premises, or in the event that you accidentally injure someone or damage their property. However, if you face a claim that you have caused harm (physical or financial) as a result of negligence in the course of your work, this will not be covered by your public liability insurance.

To protect you in these circumstances you will need professional indemnity insurance. Professional indemnity insurance covers your legal costs if you have to defend yourself against a negligence claim, and also covers any compensation or damages you are required to pay to a client if the claim against you is successful (up to the limit in your policy).

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How much is professional indemnity insurance for Dietitians?

Your professional indemnity insurance premium will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Your annual turnover
  • The amount of cover you wish to take out
  • Where you work (stamp duty levels vary from state to state)
  • Whether you have made a claim under a professional indemnity insurance policy in the past

If you choose to include additional features in your policy, such as retroactive protection, run off cover or automatic reinstatement, these will increase the cost of your insurance.

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Professional indemnity insurance case study

A client consulted a Dietitian with the goals of losing weight and managing consistently high blood pressure that was causing him headaches and dizziness. The Dietitian conducted a complete assessment and devised an individual meal plan for the client to reduce his salt and calorie intake.

The client followed the Dietitians advice and meal plan and began to lose weight, but his blood pressure remained high. He ultimately suffered a stroke which left him physically impaired and unable to work. He decided to take legal action against the Dietitian for negligence, claiming that she had failed to provide the required service of helping him to reduce his blood pressure.

The claim against the Dietitian was dismissed in court because the client lived a high stress lifestyle, was a smoker, and did not participate in regular exercise - factors which were all considered to be responsible for his continued high blood pressure despite his healthier diet. The Dietitian incurred legal costs of $14,000 in defending the claim, which were covered by her professional indemnity insurance. Her excess on the claim was just $[xx].

List of dietetics services that need professional indemnity insurance

As an Accredited Practicing Dietitian you are required to have professional indemnity insurance cover for any activity you undertake, including:

  • Dietary advice
  • Diet planning
  • Diet modifications
  • Elimination diets
  • Enteral nutrition
  • Oral nutrition supplements
  • Nutrition education
  • Total parenteral nutrition
  • Clinical dietetics
  • Community dietetics
  • Management dietetics
  • Sports dietetics

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About the Author

Shaun McGowan from money.com.au

Shaun

McGowan

Shaun McGowan

Shaun is the founder of Money.com.au and is determined to help people pay as little as possible for financial products. Through education and building world class technology. Previously Shaun co-founded CarLoans.com.au and Lend.