When first asked to write about what a medical professional should look for in an insurance agent, I thought that a web-link to RGI would suffice; however, that whimsical thought soon gave way to the seriousness of the question. After all, insurance is perhaps the greatest long-term expense that a physician will have during the course of a career and, when the insurance is needed, having the right coverage and representation is critical. Since the right agent can save you money and help assure proper protection, diligence in selecting that agent deserves significant attention.
There are three equally important components: the agent, the agency and the carrier. A medical professional needs to carefully weigh the merits of each in arriving at a decision as to the placement of his or her insurance.
When it comes to the agent, I would suggest taking the same approach as in the selection of a doctor. Since the agent represents the “relationship”, the acronym “CARE” comes to mind: Considerate, Accessible, Responsible, Experienced.
Is the agent considerate of your time? Does the agent understand the pressures of your practice? Is the agent willing to handle applications quickly and efficiently? Are meetings scheduled for your convenience?
Does the agent provide you with emergency contact numbers? Can you easily reach the agent? Does the agent return calls and answer e-mails on a timely basis? Does the agent have an appropriate and experienced service staff to handle your concerns when necessary?
Does the agent follow through? Are promises kept? Does the agent proactively contact you with information relating to your coverage? Do you feel that you can trust the agent to best represent your needs?
Does the agent understand the unique aspects of the medical industry's risks and exposures? Is the agent a “specialist” in the medical profession, or a generalist that serves many different industries? Does the agent participate in medical association meetings and events? Does the agent participate in educational opportunities to improve medical expertise?
All of the four categories are important in selecting an agent, but I feel most strongly about the experience and expertise. In the case of a heart attack, I want the best cardiologist providing my treatment and care.
The agency's infrastructure provides the consistency in the services you receive; therefore, it is essential to review the capabilities and strengths of the agency, as well as the agent. Does the agency provide resources beyond the operational aspects of processing the applications, policies and claims? Does the agency proactively provide resources (advisories, newsletters, seminars, workshops, etc.) to help you manage your risks? Is the staff trained and experienced in handling the needs of medical professionals? Like the agent, does the agency “specialize” in the medical industry – or is it a generalist trying to serve anyone that needs insurance.
Due to the importance of time, there is another factor to consider. Can the agency handle all of your insurance needs from medical malpractice through workers' compensation and group benefits? If one agency can respond to all of your needs, you have eliminated the need to select and interact with multiple insurance agents on an ongoing basis.
The Insurance Company
Since the bulk of the money you spend for insurance goes to the insurance company in anticipation that you will need their protection at some point in the future, choosing the right insurance company can mean the difference between solid protection when you need it and flushing 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars away in exchange for what you thought was a good short term savings.
Critical considerations include the financial strength and stability of the carrier. Since many carriers serve multiple markets or industries, consider its longevity and consistency in offering the insurance product you are purchasing to the medical profession. What reputation does it have in defending doctors and handling claims? Like the agency, does it provide resources to assist clients in the management of their risk?
Several years ago, an advisory board of our agency's clients told us their biggest concern – and it was not the price of the premium. They wanted to know that the insurance carrier would provide a formidable defense against claims made against them. Defending an attack on their reputation was significantly more important than anything else. Does the company you select have a reputation for mounting a strong defense?
Along with all of the normal due diligence, talk to your peers. Do they have experience with the agent, the agency or the carrier? Would they recommend them to you?
Before investing in a company, legendary investor Warren Buffett asks himself three questions: Do I like them? Do I respect them? Do I trust them? If he can not answer all three questions in the affirmative, he does not invest in the company. Do you like, respect and trust your insurance agent, agency and carrier? Do you feel that they are the best to represent your needs, now and in the future? You should, because your future could very well depend on your decision!