With stay-at-home restrictions relaxing in states across the country, many small practices are making plans to either re-open their offices to in-person appointments or prepare for an increase in in-person visits. Reopening raises many questions for clinicians about patient and staff safety, best practices for infection control, patient outreach, liability, and other important considerations. To help practices through this process, the American Medical Association (AMA) has released a resource entitled “COVID-19: A physician practice guide to reopening.” Below are some recommendations from this resource to help you get started:
- Create and document a plan to re-open (and temporarily close again, if necessary). A clear plan will allow your staff and patients to know what to expect and can be a tool to protect you from liability. Your plan should include new workflows and safety measures, assessment of personal protective equipment, and clear procedures in the case an employee or patient is diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Open incrementally. Consider opening with a lighter patient load to give you and your staff time to identify and address any practical challenges presented by your workflows and procedures. Consider allowing administrative staff to continue to work remotely.
- Institute safety measures for patients and staff. Implement additional safety measures such as eliminating waiting rooms, requiring cloth face coverings, designating separate areas for “well” and “sick” patients, creating designated work stations for each staff member, and increasing cleaning frequency.
- Continue to utilize telehealth tools. Even as your practice begins to see patients in the office, consider continuing telehealth to screen and triage patients before their appointment. Patients who may have COVID symptoms can be re-directed to a COVID-19 testing site or a hospital.
- Coordinate testing. Contact your public health authority to identify the COVID-19 testing sites in your area. Make sure you understand their requirements and procedures so that you refer your patients to these sites when necessary.
- Limit visitors. Create and enforce a policy that limits the number of individuals who enter the practice but are not patients or employees. This includes creating a plan for vendors, suppliers, salespeople, and family members.
- Contact your medical malpractice insurance character. Talk to your carrier about your current coverage and any additional coverage you may need.
- Stay informed. Federal and state agencies and public health authorities continue to release new regulations, resources, and recommendations. Make sure you are staying up to date with federal, state, and local requirements, and those of any professional associations to which you belong. You may also want to consult the CDC’s updated guidance for health care systems that includes a framework to deliver non-COVID-19 health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.