Six snags docs hit when seeing patients again


Sachin Dave, MD, an internist in Greenwood, Ind., never thought he’d tell his patients to avoid coming into the office. But these days, he must balance the need for face-to-face visits with the risk for COVID-19 transmission. Although he connects with most patients by telehealth, some patients still demand in-office care.

“My older patients actually insist on coming to see me in person,” said Dr. Dave, who is part of Indiana Internal Medicine Consultants, a large group practice near Indianapolis. “I have to tell them it’s not safe.”

It’s a minor hitch as his practice ramps up again – but one of those things you can’t overlook, he said. “We need to educate our patients and communicate the risk to them.”

As practices across the United States start reopening, physicians frequently hit bumps in the road, according to Kerin Bashaw, senior vice president of patient safety and risk management for the Doctors Company, a physician-owned malpractice insurer. “It’s about minimizing risk.”

As practices increase patient volume, physicians are juggling a desire for a return to patient care and increased revenue with a need to maximize patient and staff safety. Avoiding some of these common snags may help make the transition smoother.

1. Unclear or nonexistent polices and protocols

Some physicians know what general rules they want to follow, but they haven’t conveyed them in a readily available document. Although you and your staff may have a sense of what they are, patients may be less aware of how mandatory you consider them. It’s important to develop a formal framework that you will follow and to make sure patients and staff know it.

Dr. Dave and colleagues have stringent safety protocols in place for the small percentage of patients he does feel a need to be seen in person. Masks are mandatory for staff and patients. The waiting room is set up for social distancing. If it begins getting crowded, patients are asked to wait in their cars until an exam room is ready.

“I’m not going to see a patient who refuses to put a mask on, because when I put a mask on, I’m trying to protect my patients,” said Dr. Dave. He makes it clear that he expects the same from his patients; they must wear a mask to protect his staff and himself.

“I am going to let them in with the caveat that they don’t have qualms about wearing a mask. If they have qualms about wearing a mask, then I have qualms about seeing them in person,” he said.

Be sure that all patients understand and will adhere to your protocols before they come to the office. Patients should be triaged over the phone before arriving, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. (Remember that refusing assessment or care could lead to issues of patient abandonment.)

When you don’t really have a framework to follow, you don’t really know what the structure is going to be and how your practice is going to provide care. The question is, how do you build a framework for right now? said Ron Holder, chief operations officer of the Medical Group Management Association. “The first step is do no harm.”


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