A big question on all medical staff’s minds during the COVID-19 pandemic is the issue of malpractice. Practicing medicine on a normal day will throw curveballs your way. But the unexpected only grows amid pandemic response, especially one as chaotic and large-scale as COVID-19.
In the midst of doctors and nurses doing their best to care for patients battling this life-threatening respiratory disease, a few mistakes are bound to happen, or at least some frustrating miscommunications. Medical malpractice still exists, even in the middle of a pandemic. Explore everything you need to know about COVID-19 and malpractice.
The Chaos of Pandemic Healthcare
The nature of pandemics is to grow in scale at exponential rates, threatening the flexibility and scalability of current medical infrastructure. Unfortunately, COVID-19 proved too pervasive for many hospital systems across the United States.
Ebbing and Flowing
Case spikes and COVID-19 lulls ebb and flow with various seasonal, medicinal, and social behaviors. When people spend more time outside or traveling internationally, the disease spreads quickly. This movement even sprouted the Delta variant mutation. Oppositely, the spread of the COVID-19 vaccine reduced the burden of sickness on the health system.
All this to say, healthcare quality and capacity in the past year reflects the oncoming or abating pandemic. When COVID-19 cases rose, hospitals became strapped for resources; when COVID-19 cases descended, medical staff had a much-needed breather. Though the disease did not and has not faded in tenacity, the initial chaos has mostly ended. Sure, new developments will come, but the foundational understanding of the virus and proven healing tactics are in place for a swift response.
Changing Expectations and Protocols
The chaotic atmosphere surrounding the healthcare community led to varied diagnoses and treatments for COVID-19. For a while, many didn’t know the full range of symptoms—even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, the diagnostic expectations and treatment protocols changed with the evolving symptomology.
As you might expect, people become angry when they receive subpar or different treatment from their peers. Disparities in COVID-19 treatment stemming from the slow development of information could lead to legal headaches down the road. Imagine receiving one medicine in the first months of the pandemic that researchers ruled inadequate to treat COVID-19 symptoms. All patients following that medical proclamation benefit from it, but not you. In this scenario, patients may feel entitled to some form of compensation for their troubles.
Potential Malpractice Threats in Hindsight
Malpractice cases don’t usually show up on your desk the day after an incident. It takes time for patients to gather their thoughts, find a lawyer, and decide to press charges. So by the time a prior COVID-19 patient serves you with a legal battle, the issue is trailing along in your rearview mirror.
Resource Limitations and Tough Decisions
It was not uncommon to read headlines declaring that hospitals are turning away patients. Outside the context of a pandemic, this selection and discrimination would be unacceptable and unethical—a direct violation of the Hippocratic oath.
However, the resource limitations forced hospital staff to make tough decisions with their limited resources. If there were no beds or PPE left, treatment was no longer an option. This denial of care could lead to worsened symptoms, lifelong impairment, or even death for individuals turned away by the hospital.
Lending a Helping Hand
During the case spikes, medical staff offered a helping hand to struggling hospitals and practices nearby. In the darkest hour, medical staff built bridges and lines of support to service their local community. However, when a medical professional acts outside the parameters of their practice or broader specialty, this could be cause for legal repercussions. This nobly offered aid is altruistic and well-intentioned but could cause problems legally if a medical professional acted outside their scope of practice.
Telehealth Limitations and Rapid Release
Telehealth and its widespread accessibility are now a blessing when patients and physicians understand its purpose and limitations. However, the initial rapid release of digital medical care may present some issues for providers down the line. When smaller practices and specialists moved their appointments to digital spaces, medical care’s personal and physical touch immediately vanished.
Telehealth is great for those too sick to go to a hospital or too wary of COVID-19 to enter dens of sickness. However, it entered the market so quickly that many legal teams lacked sufficient time to research potential issues or safeguard medical staff before launching online health appointments. While telehealth is much more established now, the truth is many practices across the US lacked the know-how to pull it off successfully.
Protecting Your Career From COVID-19
COVID-19 and medical malpractice center around your medical career and judgments about your ability to offer high-quality medical care. Protect your assets and practice with these quick tips.
Insure Your Future
Though many states have promised to protect medical professionals who lent a helping hand or denied care based on a lack of resources, it’s never too late to begin anticipating legal loopholes. Safeguard your career with malpractice insurance for healthcare professionals; that way, COVID-19-related incidents will filter through your policy.
Documentation Is the Best Policy
At the end of the day, COVID-19 is a developing situation, and the best way forward is with documentation and well-intentioned patient care. When you meet the standard of care as best you can with the information and parameters in your possession, you have little worry about your career. However, no one can anticipate the scope of legal problems related to medical practices post-pandemic; the more information you record about patient visits, the better.
The world turned to you for care and support in their direst hour of need. Don’t let legal nuances bite you back. Learn everything you need to know about COVID-19 and malpractice so that you can equip yourself for a long, successful career. Should you have any more questions about malpractice and insurance, our team at Baxter & Associates is more than happy to help. Reach out to us today to learn more about how you can find a policy to protect your COVID-19 response.