When COVID-19 passes and the world begins to return to normal, you can be guaranteed that many of your old “friends” will come to visit you. To minimize future liability, pain and time, you should be preparing today for tomorrow’s visitors:
The Lawyers. Lawyers come in many flavors, and can bring good or bad news. Depending on your initial reaction to the pandemic, and your subsequent actions as the panic started to die down you may see three types of lawyers: (1) Those that represent past or present employees who have lost their job or contracted COVID-19; (2) Those that represent patients who claim malpractice based on the care that you did or did not deliver, and also those patients who assert that they contracted COVID-19 at your office; and finally (3) Those that represent creditors or debtors of your practice. The actions you should take today are many and varied and beyond the scope of this overview, however, you should be asking the following questions of yourself: (i) did you file a claim for business interruption despite the fact that your insurance broker said you were wasting your time? (ii) does your malpractice carrier cover you for liability outside of the normal scope of providing care? (iii) are your documenting your actions throughout the pandemic to demonstrate that you were acting reasonably at a time when you did not have all the facts? (iv) did you look at your business insurance policies for coverage for employee claims, or workers comp claims, or OSHA claims? (v) did you research what other similarly situated companies are doing, as you will most likely be held to the same standards? (vi) did you follow guidance from State and Federal entities? and (vii) did you provide notice during the pandemic to debtors or other parties who have breached their obligations?
The COVID-19 virus has and will probably continue to change the way healthcare providers and business associates interact and help their patients. As many providers are aware, a HIPAA violation is a serious issue, and can cost a healthcare entity large amounts of time and money to respond to any regulatory investigation. Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has strained every corner of the economy and is THE MOST IMPORTANT issue for almost every industry, the federal government has rolled back some HIPAA protections. It is unclear how long these rollbacks will last, and it is possible that some of them may be permanent, but for now healthcare providers and their business associates can take some comfort that they can focus on delivering care and not dealing with overly burdensome regulations and investigations. The major changes include:
Telehealth. Changes include allowing physicians and other healthcare providers to offer telehealth services across State lines, so State licensing issues should not be a concern. Additionally, Providers are essentially free to choose almost any app to interact with their patients, even if it does not fully comply with the HIPAA rules. The HHS allows the provider to use their business judgment, but of course, such communications should NOT be public facing – which means DO NOT allow the public to watch or participate in the visit!
Disclosures of Protected Health Information (PHI). A good faith disclosure of such information will not be prosecuted. Examples include allowing a provider or business associate to share PHI for such purposes as controlling the spread of COVID-19, providing COVID-19 care, and even notifying the media, even if the patient has not, or will not grant his or her permission.
Business Associate Agreement (BAA). As most healthcare providers know, a BAA agreement between a provider and an entity that may have access to PHI is required by law. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of a BAA is not an automatic violation.
Health law is the federal, state, and local law, rules, regulations and other jurisprudence among providers, payers and vendors to the healthcare industry and its patient and delivery of health care services; all with an emphasis on operations, regulatory and transactional legal issues.