This is an odd time to be practicing medicine. Nobody knows how this Coronavirus era of 2019 and 2020 will be viewed in the history books decades from now, but we do know that our healthcare community will be the heroes of the story. Physicians, nurses, and all our healthcare providers are on the frontlines in testing and caring for the sick, and hopefully will soon formulate a vaccine for COVID-19.
Although information about COVID-19 is everywhere in the news media, by email, on the internet, and even in the mail, there isn’t much out there for our healthcare community. We are doing what we can to keep our physicians and providers informed on how to continue working during this pandemic. We have gathered information from several medical malpractice insurance carriers that we work with, and we’ve found some other sources targeted toward helping the healthcare community. The following is guidance we’ve found helpful.
Should I keep my medical practice open?
If state or local government has ordered practices or certain specialties to close, do not stay open. Be aware and stay up to date on area guidelines. If practicing in the office is allowed and makes sense, follow these safe guidelines:
- Schedule patients with no overlap so they are not sitting in the waiting room
- Disinfect and clean all surfaces between patients including the waiting room
- Before a patient comes into the office make sure they haven’t had a fever
- Ask patients ahead of time if they’ve been around anyone who is sick
- Find out if the patient can delay the appointment
- Ask anyone accompanying the patient to wait in the car not the waiting room
- Do not allow your employees who have been sick or who have sick family members to come to work
- Encourage all employees who don’t need to physically be in the office to work remotely
What if I’ve changed the way I practice and treat patients?
Many physicians are taking precautions and making changes to minimize risk. This may be a good idea depending on the physician’s specialty. In some cases, appointments can be delayed and rescheduled for a later date. In others, it may be helpful to have a video chat with a patient to determine if a face to face appointment is necessary.
If phone, computer, or video technology are being implemented for the first time, physicians need to notify their medical malpractice insurance company right away. All insurance carriers require notification when there is a change in the practice. Some carriers will not cover telemedicine, and the only way to be sure is to call and find out as soon as possible. Most of the carriers will add the coverage for telemedicine, but notification is strongly recommended and sometimes mandatory.
Check with your medical malpractice insurance carrier for specific advice about practicing telemedicine. Here are some guidelines to consider from one of our carrier partners:
- You must provide healthcare consistent with the laws of the state where the patient is located. While your patient may normally be located in your state, are they visiting family out of state? Do they go south for the winter?
- Some states require a special certificate to practice telemedicine in their state. Know the rules and conditions before you start.
- A specific informed consent for telemedicine should be used, one that acknowledges you are using this vehicle to provide treatments as well as telemedicine pros and cons.
Is there an increased malpractice risk in treating patients with COVID-19?
Physicians, hospitals, and other providers are always at risk when it comes to medical malpractice, which is why they are required to carry medical professional liability insurance. However, there could be an increased risk for medical malpractice during the current pandemic. Insurance carriers have suggested there is an increased risk of misdiagnosis of COVID-19, exposure of patients when they are in the office, and practices that don’t meet the standard of care.
Risk Managers from one of our insurance partners recommend several procedures to minimize this risk:
- Sanitize ALL equipment. Make sure you clean ANY equipment that is used with ANY patient between seeing patients.
- Remove waiting room “extras.” That includes reading material and magazines.
- Give yourself an hour before arriving and your first appointment. This will give you enough time to ensure proper cleaning of the entire office.
- Wear gloves while cleaning. This is to protect yourself and your patients.
- Provide alcohol-based sanitizers that are 60 – 95% alcohol-based to patients and staff. They should be at the reception desk and outside all treatment rooms. Staff should also use sanitizer prior to and after treating a patient.
- No touch is best. Provide no-touch waste receptacles in all areas of your office and exam rooms.
- Mind the details. Thoroughly disinfect door handles, light switches, counter tops, writing tools after each patient.
- Washing hands with soap and water is critical.
- No paper sign-ins.
- Avoid cross-scheduling. One patient at a time ensures the lowest risk.
- Discourage patients from bringing more than one person with them.
- Practice social distancing. If you absolutely must have multiple patients in the lobby at the same time, force social distancing by positioning chairs six or more feet apart, and remove extra chairs or block them off.
- Make a car “waiting room.” Consider asking patients and their companions to wait in their individual cars until their appointment time.
Where can I get the most up-to-date and unbiased information?
Looking for some trusted facts about COVID-19? The amount of information flying around about this pandemic can be overwhelming. The important thing for the healthcare community is to make sure it is reliable information. Check websites and news media outlets that are politically neutral. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization (WHO) are trusted sources of information on COVID-19 and good places to start.
Our medical malpractice insurance partners recommend these resources:
Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Resources:
A health data business partner, Healthlink Dimensions, has started a text service:
- HealthLink Dimensions built this platform in this time of crisis to assist in providing coordinated information from reliable sources. This data is from trusted organizations like the CDC, Johns Hopkins, and others all in one simple place.
- Simply text C19NEWS to 555888. At any time, if you wish to be removed, you can easily do so by texting the word “STOP”.
The brokers and consultants behind eQuoteMD want to assure our healthcare community across the country that we are here to continue to serve. Please contact us with any questions or concerns, and for the very best medical malpractice insurance for any organization or specialty in any state.