Updated September 1, 2022: While overall COVID transmission rates are down, the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 continue to circulate the globe. COVID-19 has caused infection surges in some locations, while in other areas, restrictions have been lifted, highlighting how location-specific protocols can shift as the pandemic unfolds. What does not change is that many healthcare providers are concerned about the risks involved in keeping their practices safe during the ongoing pandemic, and that certain office practices are consistently prudent. In response to these concerns, we offer the following 10 recommendations:
- Staff Training: Provide refresher training for all staff on triage, infection control, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and patient and staff communication.
- PPE: Determine staff needs for PPE based on levels of infection in the community, types of patients seen, and types of patient care procedures performed. See guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Liability Coverage: Contact your insurance agent or medical professional liability carrier to confirm that coverage has been reinstated at the desired level if you have requested adjustments in your professional liability coverage during the crisis.
- Telehealth: Schedule in-person visits according to medical or dental priority. Consider continued telehealth visits for unvaccinated patients at high risk for COVID-19 who do not need to be seen in person.
- Telephone Protocols: Follow the CDC's Phone Advice Line Tool for patient COVID-19 screening and providing telephone advice.
- In-Person Visits: For communities with high transmission rates, utilize separate entrance and exit doors, practice social distancing, continue with masking (per CDC guidelines and state/local mandates), limit capacity, ask patients to wait in the car, and limit visitors. If the patient must be accompanied, screen the chaperone for COVID-19.
- Infection Control: Assess whether public, work, and treatment areas are equipped to reduce the spread of COVID-19. See “Cleaning and Disinfection of Environmental Surfaces” and “Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” For a list of disinfectant products effective against coronavirus, see the Environmental Protection Agency List N.
- Vaccination: Provide education to patients and staff on the new “updated booster” approved by the FDA on August 31, 2022. Promote vaccination among patients and healthcare workers within your practice and facility.
- Staff Exposure: Screen healthcare personnel daily for symptoms/travel/contacts relevant to COVID-19. Any unprotected occupational exposure by staff members should be assessed and monitored. See the CDC's guidance on potential exposure at work, including return-to-work criteria for healthcare workers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
- Office Supplies: Maintain an open line of communication with all vendors and supply chains for infection control purposes and access to available resources. Document policies and procedures related to COVID-19, as well as any barriers to obtaining resources.
Concerns persist regarding COVID-19’s resurgence as state and local governments adjust to the continually changing climate. We urge you to continue to reference the CDC, your state licensing board, professional societies, and federal, state, and local authorities daily for public health guidance and new legislation. The CDC provides public health agency contact information at “Health Departments: Information on COVID-19.” Also, be mindful of changes in executive orders related to licensing, telemedicine, prescribing rules, and regulatory compliance. See Federation of State Medical Boards COVID-19 Related Legislation.