Coronavirus and Patient Safety in the Medical Office
The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across multiple continents. Since outbreaks are expected to occur at a community level, medical offices will experience an influx of patients seeking assistance. The question is: Are medical offices doing enough to prepare?
The following are some recommendations in the event a patient with suspected COVID-19 seeks care:
Patient Assessment Protocol
Follow the CDC’s patient assessment protocol for early disease detection. Suppose a patient calls to schedule an appointment for an acute respiratory illness (e.g., fever, cough, and difficulty breathing). In that case, they should be screened using the Flowchart to Identify and Assess the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
The CDC provides guidelines for environmental infection control in healthcare facilities. If presenting symptoms, immediately isolate patients in a separate room. A back entrance may be utilized if available. Once a room is vacated, there are currently no CDC instructions on the length of time before the room can be used again.
Once suspected patients are inside the facility, instruct them to wear a face mask. Educational resources, including posters for use in the medical office, are available from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Follow Standard, Contact, and Airborne precautions, including gloves, gowns, protective eyewear, and NIOSH-certified N95 respirators that have been appropriately fit-tested. This applies to all healthcare staff interacting with patients.
Limit staff exposure to suspected patients with the exam room door kept closed.
When there is a reasonable presumption that a patient may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact the local or state health department for testing.
We track staff-patient interactions in medical records.
Conduct surface disinfection once the patient exits the room while the staff wears personal protective equipment (PPE).
It’s essential to share accurate information about the virus with patients and their close contacts. Follow strict infection-control measures at home.
Remind patients and their families to access information about the virus through reputable sources such as the CDC.
Check with your local public health authorities for locations designated to triage suspected patients.
It is crucial to report any suspected cases to the relevant local and state health departments without delay. Medical offices must also notify the local health departments of any potential issues. Moreover, staff members who have been exposed to occupational hazards without protection must be closely evaluated and monitored for any signs of ill effects.
~Debbie Hill, MBA, RN, Senior Patient Safety Risk Manager, The Doctors Company
(Note from your Revenue Cycle Management partner at ebix, IncOur Billing Service Story. We are always at the forefront of industry insights and believe this article from the Michigan State Medical Society, published March 3, 2020, will interest you.)