Stranger Than Fiction: Strangers Conducting Compliance Interviews

Stranger Than Fiction: Strangers Conducting Compliance Interviews

“Stranger danger” is a staple of Halloween safety chats.

(Personally, I disagree with that approach. It isn’t clear to me that strangers are any more likely to pose a threat than folks who are well-known, but that is outside the scope of this article!) 

However, there is a real benefit to having “strangers” conducting interviews during internal investigations. The ability to conduct an effective interview will often determine whether the investigation will properly identify all the issues. I want to challenge a notion that’s quite common. 

In fact, it’s a position I held for some time, before witnessing a situation that caused me to change my mind. It’s easy to assume that having an interview conducted by someone the interviewee trusts and knows well will yield the most effective results. I will concede that there may be times when this is true. But more often, I think that as long as the interviewer is amiable and skilled, an outsider can be more effective.

Here’s the story that changed my mind.

I was representing a skilled nursing facility (SNF) that was talking to its employees to get to the bottom of some False Claims Act (FCA) allegations. The nursing facility’s general counsel, let’s call her Chris, was observing the interviews with me. She felt like she had a good relationship with her staff, and that people would be more likely to talk if she were present. I deferred to her. First, my client is the boss. I make recommendations but serve at their pleasure. And her position didn’t seem crazy to me. 

Wow, were we wrong. 

During our very first interview with an employee who both knew and liked the general counsel, Chris stepped outside to take a call. Within seconds after she left, the witness interrupted a question to say “Hey, there’s one thing I want to talk about before Chris comes back.” So began my lesson into the advantages of being an outsider. She wanted to describe a concern she had about some of the actions within the corporation, but she was worried about Chris’s reaction. The employee specifically worried that the information may reflect badly on Chris and that sharing it could cause Chris to view the employee negatively. In essence, the employee thought sharing the information may hurt their relationship with the general counsel. 

The more I considered it, the more I realized that outsiders offer a material advantage when it comes to interviews. If you’re looking for brutal honesty, do you go to the neighborhood barbeque or the Internet? By no means am I suggesting reading the comments on Internet articles, but it’s important to recognize that the anonymity of online forums often leads to increased candor. 

I live in Minnesota, and while some people misunderstand “Minnesota Nice” to be a form of kindness, it’s really passive-aggressive. Many will be hesitant to be completely honest with someone inside the organization. That will be particularly true if the person is embarrassed by what they have to say or worried that a more senior person will hold it against them.

I do believe that there are situations where close relationships matter. I have talked about the benefit of compliance professionals buying coffee for staff. I am starting to see a divide between situations where you are trying to reassure an employee that the organization has their back and internal investigations. 

My current thinking is that such assurances should come from insiders, and investigation is often best done by outsiders.

One final quick point. One of the strikes against external investigation is cost. And it’s true, it can cost a bit more to have an outsider perform an investigation. But if you’re thinking one of those costs is travel, I will note even before the pandemic, I did many interviews over the phone. Just as the Internet can lead to heightened honesty, so can a remote interview. There’s something about the distance that often results in people being more open.

The bottom line is that when you’re thinking about conducting interviews, you, like Pat Benatar, might be best served looking for a stranger. She was doing it because she was tired of the “same old Hello baby, how ya doing” and “looking for a little danger in her life.” But you should do it because it is likely to get you a better interview. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

David M. Glaser, Esq.

David M. Glaser is a shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron's Health Law Group. David assists clinics, hospitals, and other health care entities negotiate the maze of healthcare regulations, providing advice about risk management, reimbursement, and business planning issues. He has considerable experience in healthcare regulation and litigation, including compliance, criminal and civil fraud investigations, and reimbursement disputes. David's goal is to explain the government's enforcement position, and to analyze whether this position is supported by the law or represents government overreaching. David is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board and is a popular guest on Monitor Mondays.

Related Stories

Leave a Reply

Please log in to your account to comment on this article.

Featured Webcasts

2024 Observation Services Billing: How to Get It Right

2024 Observation Services Billing: How to Get It Right

Dr. Ronald Hirsch presents an essential “A to Z” review of Observation, including proper use for Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and commercial payers. He addresses the correct use of Observation in medical patients and surgical patients, and how to deal with the billing of unnecessary Observation services, professional fee billing, and more.

March 21, 2024
Top-10 Compliance Risk Areas for Hospitals & Physicians in 2024: Get Ahead of Federal Audit Targets

Top-10 Compliance Risk Areas for Hospitals & Physicians in 2024: Get Ahead of Federal Audit Targets

Explore the top-10 federal audit targets for 2024 in our webcast, “Top-10 Compliance Risk Areas for Hospitals & Physicians in 2024: Get Ahead of Federal Audit Targets,” featuring Certified Compliance Officer Michael G. Calahan, PA, MBA. Gain insights and best practices to proactively address risks, enhance compliance, and ensure financial well-being for your healthcare facility or practice. Join us for a comprehensive guide to successfully navigating the federal audit landscape.

February 22, 2024
Mastering Healthcare Refunds: Navigating Compliance with Confidence

Mastering Healthcare Refunds: Navigating Compliance with Confidence

Join healthcare attorney David Glaser, as he debunks refund myths, clarifies compliance essentials, and empowers healthcare professionals to safeguard facility finances. Uncover the secrets behind when to refund and why it matters. Don’t miss this crucial insight into strategic refund management.

February 29, 2024
Mastering Medicare Notices: Your Essential Guide to the MOON and Beyond

Mastering Medicare Notices: Your Essential Guide to the MOON and Beyond

Hospital staff continue to grapple with the complexities of Medicare notices.  In this webcast, Tiffany Ferguson, LMSW, CMAC, ACM, will present the latest requirements for preparation and delivery of CMS-mandated forms, including the Advance Beneficiary Notice (ABN), Hospital-Issued Notices of Noncoverage (HINNs), Important Message from Medicare (IMM) and Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice (MOON), and practical solutions through foolproof workflows and compliance auditing.

January 25, 2024
OBGYN ICD-10-CM/PCS Coding: Mastering Complex Guidelines and Compliance

OBGYN ICD-10-CM/PCS Coding: Mastering Complex Guidelines and Compliance

Dive into the complexities of Obstetrics and Gynecology coding, addressing challenges from antepartum to postpartum care. Learn to decode intricate guidelines, tackle claim denials, and safeguard your practice’s financial health. Uncover the secrets to compliant coding, reducing errors, and optimizing reimbursement. With practical exercises and expert insights, this webcast empowers coders, auditors, and healthcare professionals to elevate their OBGYN coding prowess.

February 28, 2024
Unlocking Clinical Documentation Excellence: Empowering CDISs & Coders

Unlocking Clinical Documentation Excellence: How to Engage the Provider

Uncover effective techniques to foster provider understanding of CDI, empower CDISs and coders to customize their queries for enhanced effectiveness, and learn to engage adult learners, leveraging their experiences for superior learning outcomes. Elevate your CDI expertise, leading to fewer coding errors, reduced claim denials, and minimized audit issues.

December 14, 2023
Coding for Spinal Procedures: A 2-Part Webcast Series

Coding for Spinal Procedures: A 2-Part Webcast Series

This exclusive ICD10monitor webcast series will help you acquire the critical knowledge you need to completely and accurately assign ICD-10-PCS and CPT® codes for spinal fusion and other common spinal procedures.

October 26, 2023

Trending News

It’s Heart Month! Use code HEART24 at checkout to receive 20% off your cardiology products. Click here to view our suite of Cardiology products!