Kusserow on Compliance: Debriefing complainants—24 question tips

It is very important to fully debrief any complainants and act in a very timely manner to avoid having them go elsewhere with their information—such as an attorney, government agency, media, etc. Any of these other channels could result in serious problems and possible liability. In many cases the information may come anonymously from the hotline, underscoring the importance that those answering the calls be trained on properly debriefing callers and be familiar with health care related issues.

Also, time is not a friend once information is received that may warrant immediate action. Complicating matters is that frequently a single complaint may include several different allegations, each of which needs to be addressed independently. In the debriefing process, once the story is told, specific clarifying questions need to be asked in guiding the person back through the information. This should be done by asking the standard WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY questions. These should be designed to expand on the factual details and to test and corroborate the information and be sure the chronologies of events are established.

It is important also to look for avenues and leads that will provide direction by which to either substantiate the allegations or dismiss them. Inasmuch as the allegations may relate to a specific event, something personal or organization wide, an ongoing process problem, etc. It is impossible to draft a set of question that would apply in every circumstance, however the following gives an idea about the types of questions that can be asked in a formal debriefing.

 

DEBRIEFING QUESTIONS

 

  1. What happened that led to the making of the complaint?
  2. Why are you coming forth with it now?
  3. What occurred, where, when, and how?
  4. Did the person who engaged in the conduct engage in similar conduct with anyone else?
  5. Has anyone else complained to you about similar conduct?
  6. When did it occur (date and time)?
  7. Where did it take place?
  8. How did you respond when it occurred?
  9. Who did you discuss it with and when? 
  10. What did you say? What did they say?
  11. How has this incident affected you?
  12. Has your job been affected in any way?
  13. Who else was present when the act occurred? 
  14. Where were they in relation to you? 
  15. Who else has any knowledge of the act? 
  16. Has anyone else discussed it with you? 
  17. If so, who and what did that person say? 
  18. Did anyone see you immediately after the act?
  19. Who else was involved, knows about, or witnessed it?
  20. Who else have you told (employees, supervisor, attorney, media,)?
  21. Why do you think it happened?
  22. What documentary evidence would help in the investigation?
  23. What do you believe should be done to resolve this matter?
  24. Has is happened before (an isolated event or part of a pattern)?

 

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Choosing a location for investigation interviews

Regardless of whether you are conducting a debriefing of a complainant, interviewing a witness, or confronting a subject in an interrogation, determining the location and setting of the interview is important. The objective is to create privacy and eliminate any possible interruptions or distractions. It should be conducted away from any traffic or other distracting influences, or where others may observe or overhear what is occurring. Interviewing someone in their own office should be avoided in that it invites interruptions or reasons why the person may turn their attention to some other matter. It also gives the interviewee the advantage of being on their “own turf.” By interviewing someone away from their own area, the investigator receives an advantage. The following are some additional tips and considerations in deciding upon the interview location and setting:

1. Privacy. Fewer the people in the room, the better the results
2. Quiet. Don’t want external sounds or outsiders to hear
3. Room Size. Small enough to convey intimacy
4. Well Lighted. Permits closer observation of individual
5. Plain. Avoid distractions (e.g. window, pictures, wall clocks, etc.)
6. Telephone. Shut if off to avoid incoming calls/messages
7. Furniture. Avoid having furniture in between (barrier to rapport)
8. Seating. Interviewer should sit directly across from interviewee
9. Positioning. Avoid the person being able to look out a window and not at you

It is recognized that there are practical constraints that may necessitate compromise on these considerations. Also, most interviews will be persons who are witnesses or who otherwise provide limited information. As such, many of these tips may not be necessary. However, if the person to be interviewed is the subject of the investigation, applying these principles become important elements to successful outcomes.

 

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Conducting effective investigative interviews

Obtaining facts from witnesses is a critical part of any successful investigation. The witness interview process involves determining how the investigation is defined and scoped; understanding the facts and issues at play; and assessing the accountability of individuals. When conducting interviews proper preparation is important, as is remembering that even honest and disinterested witnesses can be concerned about being interviewed. Their level of cooperation often depends on their assessment of the professionalism, experience, and trustworthiness of the interviewer.

 

  1. Plan the interview. Know what information is needed from the person and proceed in a logical order to obtain it. If not organized, there will be gaps in the interview and lead to failure to ask something important.

 

  1. Take time to establish rapport. It is very important to take the first couple of minutes to establish rapport with the witness. This can be done by asking routine questions about their duties and who they report to, etc. This will help make the witness more comfortable and lead to better responses to substantive question.

 

  1. Treat those interviewed with dignity, respect, and courtesy. Don’t treat witnesses as subjects to be interrogated; and never intimidate or make threats. Witnesses are mostly those that are neutral on the matter being investigated. Their cooperation is needed and should not alienated by an investigator’s bad manners.

 

  1. Be professional. It is important to dress and act professionally at all time, including demeanor and tone. Avoid investigative jargon picked up from movies. A witness will offer much more meaningful information if they trust the interviewer’s professionalism.

 

  1. Interviews are conversations with a purpose. Successful interview conversations require maintaining eye contact and responding to what is being said, as you would do in any conversation. It also means avoiding distractions which can be caused by referring to notes, reading questions, or taking extensive notes.

 

  1. Ask short, simple questions. Avoid the long, unfocused questions typical of an inexperienced or unprepared investigator. Cover a topic by asking short, simple, and direct questions which easy for the witness to understand. It also allows for better evaluation of the answers and provides opportunity to seek clarification or elaboration.

 

  1. Open-ended questions. Use open-ended questions that permit the witness to tell what they know in their own way. Witnesses will often in their narrative address many of the questions that are on the interviewers list. Also, it may also open new lines of inquiry or issues that were not previously considered.

 

  1. Don’t accept what the person says as facts. What is being said may be colored by several factors, such as knowing the people involved, concerns about personal involvement, and simply the fog of memory. In some cases, the person may not be telling the truth, whole truth. Therefore, responses must be substantiated before they can be accepted as fact.

 

  1. Talk less, listen more. During an interview the investigator should talk about 20 percent of the time and the person being interviewed 80 percent. Therefore, questions should be brief and, whenever possible, elicit a narrative response. Avoid interrupting a witnesses’ answer unless they don’t understand the question.

 

  1. Insist on complete, responsive answers. Think about the answer to a question before asking the next one to be sure it was answered completely. Often even well-intentioned witnesses stray from what is being asked. Stay on an issue and seek clarification until fully answered.

 

  1. Ask, not answer question. Don’t lose control of the interview by answering witness questions, stay in control of the process. Many inexperience investigators will give out more information at witness interviews than they receive.

 

  1. Never offer any opinions relating to the investigation. Inexperience investigators may leak out their opinion on matters under investigation or respond to witness questions in a way that suggests their opinion. This can create a host of problems later.

 

  1. Press for details. Follow the journalistic “who, what, where, when and how”. Always get dates of key events, persons present at important meetings, what was said by whom, whether any record of the meetings, exist, and so on. Don’t be afraid to ask sensitive questions directly.

 

  1. Basis of witness knowledge. The focus needs to be on obtaining direct knowledge of facts. Therefore, witnesses need to be asked about how they became aware of their information. This is to assist in evaluating reliability of the information and to expose possible uncorroborated information from a third party.

 

  1. Recapping the interview. In concluding the interview, the investigator should recap the information with the witness to ensure accuracy and to permit additions and clarification.

 

  1. Close out of interview. In bringing the interview to a close, the witness should be asked if there was anything not covered; whether they know of others that might be able to add useful information; that there may be a need to recontact them later to clarify points; and request they contact the investigator should they think of anything.

 

  1. Promptly prepare a memo. Take only limited and abbreviated notes during the interview to avoid distractions and losing the conversation tone. However, immediately upon conclusion, a detailed set of notes should be created before memory begins to fade.

 

Richard Kusserow has over 40 years investigative experience including eleven years as HHS Inspector General and twelve years with the FBI. He authored “Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8). His firm provides investigator training for clients.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

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Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

Kusserow on Compliance: Successful investigation interviews require proper preparation

Proper preparation is the number one factor for a successful interview. Do not rush into an interview until you are fully prepared. It is important to examine and understand all the facts known that relate to the matter under investigation. It is also critical to understand what information is needed to advance the investigation and to determine what the person being interviewed can contribute to this. The following tips will help ensure best results:

  1. Develop an investigation plan. Before any interviews, it is important to (a) set investigative priorities/objectives; (b) review what is known; (c) obtain needed documents; and (d) identify those people that should be interviewed, in what order.

 

  1. Master the known facts of the case. Review all the available facts and evidence; and decide what you need from witnesses to prove the offense or fill gaps.

 

  1. Properly prepare for each interview. A successful interview includes knowing who should be interview, their background, what information they may have to advance the investigation, and what documents are relevant to their interview.

 

  1. Develop an outline for each interview of the points to be covered in a logical manner. It should be in an abbreviated form, serving as a road map to keep things on track by addressing different topics to be covered. However, rigid adherence to an outline or detailed questions is not advisable, as it will tend to distract the interviewer from carefully listening to the witness’s answers and generating useful follow up questions.

 

  1. Schedule interviews as quickly as possible. Interviews of witnesses should be scheduled in a logical order to build a case, as soon as possible, before memory fades or is influenced by events.

 

  1. Have relevant material on hand during the interview. Have only documents present that are relevant to the interview. As appropriate, show the witness the relevant documents and let him or her review them before answering. It may assist in refreshing memory of events.

 

  1. Use copies of original documents for interviews. As a rule, it is best to keep original evidence secured in a controlled access location. Using copies will ensure that original ones are not lost or compromised.

 

  1. Take care in selecting the location and setting for the interview. Schedule interviews away from the persons work station or office. The setting for the interview should be in a place where it cannot be overheard or where there are distractions in sight and sound. As such, the person should not be near a window. It is also advisable to avoid barriers with the interviewee, such as table and desks, that may be viewed as overly formal and threatening.

 

  1. Allow adequate time for the interview to be conducted in an appropriate environment. Most interviews in complex cases take much longer than the witness anticipates. Conduct the interview in a professional environment; do not attempt to interview an important witness at lunch or in another social setting.

 

  1. Review policy regarding rights of employees during an investigation. Check with HR before conducting employee interviews to determine if employees who decline to cooperate could/would be considered insubordinate, as well as whether employee rights exist that may restrict interviews. For example, members of unions may have the right to be present and to take independent notes and/or record the meeting.

Richard Kusserow has over 40 years investigative experience including eleven years as HHS Inspector General and twelve years with the FBI. He authored “Conducting Internal Investigations in Health Care Organizations (ISBN 979-1-936230-60-8). His firm provides investigator training for clients.

Connect with Richard Kusserow on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Kusserow on Compliance Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.