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News & Press: COVID-19

Takeaways from AAOE’s Ask Me Anything Series

Wednesday, August 19, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Virtual Learning Dilemmas, Keeping Staff Socially Distanced Off-Hours, Enforcing Mask Policies, and Staying Sane in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Each month, AAOE is hosting an Ask Me Anything Series where attorneys and consultants answer your questions to help you stay on top of the ever-evolving COVID-19 climate. It’s a safe space where you can come together with your peers to get the information you need, hear what other practices are doing, and sometimes just connect with the only people who understand what you’re going through.

Below are the takeaways from the August 6 Ask Me Anything call.

 

How do you ensure staff are social distancing in their personal lives? What’s the line between protecting your patients and staff, and respecting their personal lives?

Susan Childs, Founder of Evolution Healthcare, shared that her clients are struggling with staff who aren’t wearing masks or social distancing outside of the office. This poses an obvious risk to patients an other staff, but what can you legally require outside working hours?

 

The rest of the panel advised against creating an unenforceable policy.

 

Jeana Singleton, an attorney at Brennan, Manna, & Diamond, explained that staff education is your best plan of attack. She recommended continuing to educate your staff on your state’s mandates regarding masks and travel restrictions.

 

Ryan Smith, an attorney at the Fredrikson & Byron law firm, echoed Singleton’s advice, stressing the importance of educating your staff about the guidelines in place to keep their coworkers and the practice’s patience safe. He added that your focus should be on what you can control: reducing the chance of transmission within the practice itself.

 

What can or should you do for staff whose children are required to do virtual learning and who have positions where they’re unable to work from home?

This is a difficult and complicated issue, with no clear answer. Childs recommended sitting down one on one with staff who are affected to understand each of their individual needs, as a blanket policy likely won’t accommodate everyone. This is one more area that has caused uncertainty in our current environment, so the most important thing you can do is remain flexible and transparent with your employees.

 

There’s an exemption for healthcare workers in the Families First Coronavirus Act. Can you exempt your clinical staff workers due to patient care, and not exempt other staff members who could work from home? The major concern with implementing this is employee morale, which is already low.

Panelists all used the same word when providing their advice: flexible.

 

As a practice administrator, you must keep your office properly staffed, but you also need to consider the needs of your staff. Childs said if you get into a position where you need to bring in other staff to keep the practice running, you may need to consider furloughing staff who are unable to work remotely. If possible, she recommended asking staff if they would be willing to work different positions to cover any holes, acknowledging that there are limitations to this – a front desk worker can’t simply become a nurse overnight.

 

David Blish, director of healthcare consulting with Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Healthcare Resources Group, offered other options for consideration, such as alternating shifts or days, or allowing staff who have positions that can be done remotely to do them off hours if needed.

Smith advised practicing caution if you create any policies on this topic. Be careful that you aren’t creating a policy that limits your ability to respond to an ever-changing situation.

 

What do we need to know regarding the proposed update to the physician fee schedule rules?

Singleton explained that this proposed rule is attempting to address telehealth and licensing beyond the pandemic, and also includes an update to the E&M codes for quality payment program value pathways, opioid use disorder, and substance use disorder. Smith added that with the explosion of demand for telehealth, President Trump is looking to make those changes permanent.

Comments are open until October 5.

 

What are you doing to help provide the needed support to employees right now when morale is down?

This question was opened up to attendees, many of whom reported that this is not only an issue facing their staff, but something they’re struggling with, as well. Many reported that for their staff, it’s the small things that mean a lot right now, like individually-packaged food in the pantry, sharing a meme on your staff’s messaging app, or sharing pictures of your pets. But they also offered each other advice and a reminder to take care of yourself through a focus on your hobbies or just allowing yourself to disconnect every once in a while. 

 

34 states are requiring masks (as of August 6). What do you do if an employee or patient says they can't wear a mask for medical reasons?

Attendees noted that they have put measures in place to notify patients before they come to the office, either through the phone or their patient portal, and asking them to provide a doctor’s note when they arrive at the practice explaining why they can’t wear a mask.

 

Smith explained that from the legal perspective, you need to have a mask policy in place and should ask for documentation for any accommodations you make. Singleton posed the opposite question: if you don’t require masks, what are the potential risks to your practice, both from a safety perspective as well as a public relations perspective?

 

Both Smith and Childs recommended consulting with an employment lawyer to avoid legal action taken against the practice.

 

Join us for the next Ask Me Anything call taking place September 3! Register here and submit your questions here.

 


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