Blog Post

Initiating Internal Investigations

Tips and Suggestions from Experts

In most organizations, there are many different individuals who may be called upon to respond to a complaint or concern raised by an employee. Of the incoming complaints and concerns that require inquiry and response, often only a few will rise to the level of requiring an internal investigation. How organizations choose to label responsive actions to complaints can convey important meaning to employees. Al Bassett, a health care consultant who retired from the FBI and provided training at the FBI Academy, notes: “When you call something an ‘investigation,’ you are using an emotionally charged term that suggests a violation of law and potential enforcement action. This connotation can have an impact on how individuals will respond when being questioned about a situation or issue. When people hear about an ‘investigation,’ their imagination may get excited and they may prematurely infer a lot more about what is occurring than is factually correct.” Emil Moschella, another former FBI executive with extensive experience as a compliance officer and health care compliance consultant, agrees with Bassett and notes: “When someone announces that they are conducting an ‘investigation,’ the typical effect is that people become defensive and cautious when responding to questions. Many individuals react by developing a cautious attitude if they believe that they are being asked about something that may result in an enforcement action.”

Bassett and Moschella both point out that what defines an investigation can also be used to define other activities that prompt different emotional associations. Bassett and Moschella further explain that an investigation is a search to uncover facts and seek the truth of an issue (who, what, when, where, why, how), and involves a detailed inquiry or systematic examination to gather information to solve a problem or resolve an issue. They note that other activities can meet this definition, including conducting audits, evaluations, and inquiries. All of these other activities have something in common as they all involve a detailed examination of facts. Both Bassett and Moschella believe that by characterizing an investigation activity through the use of these other terms helps avoid invoking the same emotional response that the term ‘investigation’ typically evokes. It is advisable, when possible, to use neutral terminology to avoid unnecessarily exciting concerns and speculation among employees.

Contact Strategic Management Services
Carrie Kusserow has 15 years of experience in health care compliance including management of one of the largest hotline service companies in the country. Over the years, she has reviewed and dealt with literally thousands of complaints received via the hotline or other means. She makes the point that: “The vast majority of hotline complaints can be resolved fairly quickly within a day or two, without a formal investigation. Many complaints, allegations, and concerns are routine in nature and may be resolved through normal management procedures or through HR; however, some cases do require an investigation, real and in fact. When confronted with this, the key to resolution is how to do this properly.”

Moschella notes, “The key to a successful investigation is having properly trained individuals to conduct the investigation; however, it is unrealistic to have professional investigators in compliance offices. Certain basic principles should be taught to anyone taking on the role of an investigator, whether they come from the compliance office, HR, legal department, privacy office, etc.” Suzanne Castaldo, JD, who worked a number of years as an attorney, compliance officer, and health care consultant, stresses that: “Anyone called to conduct an investigation must understand how to plan an investigation, conduct proper interviews, organize evidence, prepare written reports, and document management. Anyone who is likely to be called upon to conduct an internal investigation should undergo basic training whether it be through attending a training conference, participating in training webinars, or having experts provide training on-site. This includes compliance officers, HR, privacy/security officers, and legal counsel.”

Kashish Chopra, JD, is a health care compliance consultant who states from experience that: “It should be standard practice for anyone considering an investigation to ‘triage’ all the facts known, similar to what medical staff does when a patient arrives at an emergency room of a hospital. This involves an analysis of the complaint and any allegations in order to determine who is best equipped to resolve the issues at hand. It may be the case that multiple functions and officers need to be involved. From this initial ‘triage’ analysis, an investigative plan can be developed.”

Subscribe to blog