With the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the significant governmental actions being taken at federal, state and local levels, physicians and dentists around the country are seeking guidance on how to continue to treat patients while ensuring that the health of their employees and patients is protected.
Whether your practice is open or temporarily closed, you may be wondering how you should handle patients who show potential symptoms of COVID-19 or have recently traveled abroad. You may also be wondering how you should handle employee concerns about the dangers of COVID-19 in the workplace, or whether your employees may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
From a business perspective, you may have concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on your contracts with vendors or your office lease.
Fox Rothschild LLP has established a Coronavirus Resources Center with articles, presentations and blog posts on these issues and more.
With respect to workplace and employee matters, see our article on Coronavirus Workplace Considerations for Employers and the Labor & Employment section of our Coronavirus Resources Center.
For info on the new federal law mandating paid sick leave and FMLA, and the tax credits for employers who are required to pay it, see this article: Federal Law Mandating Paid Sick Leave and FMLA.
For a perspective on contracts with third parties, see our article on Force Majeure Clauses.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind from a health care law perspective as the country continues to work through this pandemic:
- The CDC has issued guidance on COVID-19 for health care professionals on its website (accessible here: CDC Coronavirus – Health Care Professionals). Precautions taken by heath care professionals should be consistent with CDC guidance, including, but not limited to, frequent and thorough cleaning and sanitization. See this guidance: CDC Cleaning and Sanitization Requirements for Health Care Professionals
- The CDC has also advised healthcare facilities and clinicians (including physicians and dentists) to “prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures now and for the coming several weeks.” Specifically, the CDC has advised that all routine dental and eyecare exams, as well as elective procedures, be postponed. See: CDC Guidance for Health Care Clinics
- Seriously consider posting patient notices on your main office door, at the front desk, and on your practice’s website. Notices can also be sent by email to patients of your practice. These notices can explain how your practice will handle patients with symptoms of COVID-19 and those who have recently traveled abroad.
- The notices can also be used to inform patients of the following:
- Whether your practice treats or tests for COVID-19 (if a medical practice).
- General information on what patients should do if they exhibit symptoms.
- When patients will be required to reschedule an appointment.
- How patients can reschedule an appointment.
- Whether the practice will proactively reschedule appointments for patients whom a health care practitioner has determined should reschedule their appointments (due to being at higher risk).
- The practice’s cleaning and sanitization policy.
- Where patients can obtain more information on COVID-19.
- Seriously consider implementing a Patient Notice and Acknowledgement Form to:
- Screen patients for symptoms of COVID-19 or travel abroad;
- Document their receipt of the above-described patient notice; and
- Obtain the patient’s acknowledgement that their appointment will be rescheduled if they exhibit such symptoms or have recently traveled abroad.
- See our Alert on Patient Notice and Acknowledgement Forms.
- Develop a policy and procedure on how to handle patients exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and when and how patient appointments will be rescheduled. Train your employees on that policy and procedure.
- Review your practice’s policies and procedures on employee safety and cleaning and sanitization, and consider a quick training session with employees on how to protect themselves from COVID-19 and other illnesses when interacting with patients.
- Review your practice’s HIPAA Policies and Procedures Manual, especially with respect to remote access of employees to protected health information. For more information, see our post on Fox’s HIPAA and Health Information Technology Blog regarding the ABCs for Working from Home for employees of covered entities under HIPAA.
- Conduct additional cleaning and sanitization of your office in accordance with CDC guidelines.
If you have any questions on what is best for your practice from a legal perspective during the COVID-19 outbreak, or would like assistance preparing the patient notices, acknowledgement forms and/or policies described above, please see our Alert and do not hesitate to contact us.