Mistakes to avoid as you reopen your physician practice

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

Safely reopening a physician practice requires patience and planning. Vigilance is also needed to avoid potential pitfalls that could erase progress that had been won by taking carefully measured steps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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An AMA checklist designed to help physicians manage the safe reopening of their practices emphasizes new precautions that must be taken to protect patients, clinicians and staff from COVID-19 as in-person care resumes or becomes more routine.

The new AMA resource builds upon guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is designed to balance immediate care needed for COVID-19 while addressing patients’ other health needs that have not been addressed or had to be postponed due to physical distancing that has been instituted to curb community spread of COVID-19.

The checklist identifies where problems may occur and offers advice, including these seven mistakes to avoid.

Be familiar with state and local guardrails for business reopening. Consult the AMA chart and fact sheet detailing state-specific delays, and where applicable, resumption of elective or non-urgent procedures. When in doubt, consult state and local government websites.

The checklist recommends assessing your practice’s current inventory and future needs of personal protective equipment and ordering to have enough on hand when reopening to withstand sporadic deliveries without disrupting patient care.

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Contact the local public health authority for information on available COVID-19 testing sites and identify those in your catchment area. Contact them to ensure that tests are available and to understand the turnaround time on testing results so you can provide clear and current information to patients about where they can be tested and how the process works.

Clearly post on your website and practice door your revised visitor policy. Vendors, educators or other service providers who previously visited the practice should be rerouted to telephone or videoconference communication.

Congress has shielded clinicians on the pandemic’s front-lines from COVID-19 related liability in certain instances. Reopened physician practices, however, may be subject to heightened risks which do not fall under these protections.

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Contact your medical liability insurance carrier to discuss current coverage and whether any additional coverage is warranted to protect your practice and clinicians from liability and lawsuits resulting from current and future unknowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Institute or update confidentiality, privacy and data-security protocols. Results of any employee screenings should be kept in employment records—but separate from the personnel file. Similarly, coworkers and patients can be informed that they came into contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19, but the identity of the employee and details about their symptoms cannot be shared without consent.

Reopening may bring new questions about paid sick leave (per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) for staff that was on furlough. Other issues involve employment obligations and what to do if employees request to opt out of the reopening. 

Physicians should also consult the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ phase 1 guide for reopening facilities to provide nonemergent, non-COVID care.

Other tools and guidance can be found at the AMA's COVID-19 resource center, which offers a library of the materials from the JAMA Network™, the CDC and the World Health Organization.