Liability Insurance and Risk Considerations in the Wake of COVID-19

In the panel-style town hall discussion held by the American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA), featuring William Sullivan, EVP of CM&F Group, and Marilyn Allen, Educator of Practice Management & Ethics at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, it was evident that there are three key considerations to keep on top of during the pandemic that will help manage risk and keep you protected in the event of a lawsuit:

  1. Document. Document. Document.

    Albeit boring and tedious, if you want to get paid, if you want to stay safe, documentation is a necessity. Many questions arose around documentation of patient COVID-related protocols like temperature checks and questionnaires, signed treatment during pandemic waivers, and telehealth/telemedicine consent addendums. There was no right or wrong answer as to how to document these new efforts, but it was clear that however the practitioner chooses, it should absolutely be documented in some form. “Your documentation is your defense. The more written information you have, the better defense you’ll have,” said Marilyn.

    Acknowledging the “old-school” preferences of some acupuncture practitioners and wanting to hand-write documentation, William advised that to stay ahead, acupuncturists need to start looking into the efficiency of EHR systems and proper telehealth processes as they relate to documentation. “If you want to navigate through the storm, you have to start looking strategically. Not just for now, but down the line. And part of that is navigating telehealth properly with the appropriate [3rd-party] advisors and getting those check-ins now,” Sullivan said.

  2. Know your local, state & government laws in and around your scope of practice.

    As practitioners look to implement telehealth technology and telemedicine practices, or as they look to re-open their doors for in-person patient care, it is important to understand the laws relevant to your profession, and the recommendations put in place by the various government entities.

    “It is our responsibility to act morally, ethically and legally in this issue of pandemic with COVID so that our profession can move ahead and take its rightful place in healthcare,” Marilyn said urging acupuncturists to understand what they can and cannot do as a provider during the pandemic.

    Again, it wasn’t a clear answer from the panelists except to consult your attorney, governmental agencies, and licensing boards. Despite it not being a concrete answer, it is the only answer. Every state has changing regulations around scope of practice. Some states have waivers in place, some don’t. Some states are allowing telehealth/telemedicine visits for new patients, some states allow only existing patients to be seen virtually. CM&F’s response to this, and to make acupuncture liability insurance protection easy, is to cover all practitioners for any services provided so long as they are within scope of practice, according to the relevant local, state, and federal laws. “We [CM&F] keep it wide open for what you are allowed to do, but you must be in compliance with local, state and federal regulations,” said Sullivan. His clear recommendation: always consult your state licensing board and your attorney to be clear on what is allowed within scope of practice, based on the relevant laws, and with consideration of the terms and conditions of your malpractice insurance policy.

  3. Don’t fall victim to cyber threats.

    Make sure to have a comprehensive cyber liability policy. Business insurance providers have been pushing clients to purchase cyber coverage for some time now, but as practitioners are being forced to accept more virtual methods of patient care, its importance is finally being recognized.

    Due to the costly repercussions of a cyber hack, over 60% of small to medium size practices are forced to go out of business. The cost of notifying patients averages $460 per individual, per hack – more than triple of what it costs for a retailer to notify their customers that has a cyber security incident which has occurred.

    With health care entities being the highest target of cyber data hacks, all panelists agreed that groups and clinics should have a cyber liability insurance policy that protects you in the event of a cyber hack and from either 1st or 3rd parties bringing on the lawsuit.

As the town hall came to a close, William’s closing point, and probably the biggest takeaway – make sure to be fully aware of stability and history of the liability insurance provider you choose to cover you. “Governments are telling people [insurance companies] to cover insurance risks that are not paid for, which means there will be a question of financial strength and solvency for a lot of insurance companies. You want to make sure you are putting your money where it needs to go and with a company that is going to be there when you need it,” he said referencing the reality of many insurers also being hit with the implications of these uncertain times.

Watch the May 20, 2020, COVID-19 Crisis – Working Together Town Hall Session Hosted by ASA Below.

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