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COVID-19 “Collateral Damage” Claims and How to Avoid Them

By: Naomi Tsujimura
2 Minute Read

As practices continue to adapt to new challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, some procedural changes have resulted in unintended consequences. Unchaperoned patients are subject to falls, changes in how providers interact with caregivers can result in miscommunication, and ensuring follow-through with treatment plans can be increasingly difficult.

These scenarios are what we refer to as COVID “collateral damage” claims. They include incidents that are not directly related to COVID-19, but rather the conditions under which injury and other negative events are able to occur.

It’s important to regularly review policies and procedures to ensure patients are safe and practice staff are protected against undue liability—especially as practice conditions continue to evolve to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are examples of recent claims:

An Unchaperoned Fall

A 78-year-old female patient with arthritis and diabetic peripheral neuropathy usually came to her physician appointments with her daughter-in-law. With new office visit protocols in place during COVID-19, the daughter-in-law would now text the practice upon arrival to “check in” for the visit. After that, she could walk her mother-in-law to the office door, but could not accompany her to her visit.

Upon completion of the patient’s examination, the staff member instructed her to get dressed and check out at the front desk and then left the exam room. When the patient rose from the table and reached for her clothing, she fell and struck her head of the floor, causing a head laceration and chipped tooth. The patient was transported to the ED for sutures and required extraction and replacement of the chipped tooth.

A Miscommunication With Caregivers

A 67-year-old widowed male lived alone with assistance from a home health aide who was well known by both the physician and the practice. This aide was the patient’s main caregiver and helped him with physician visits and medication management. Unfortunately, the practice’s COVID-19 restrictions only allowed one family member to attend appointments with patients, and no considerations were made for non-family caregivers.

At a recent visit, the patient was advised to schedule a consult with a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy, and this was noted on his exit paperwork. However, the patient did not share this information with his home health aide and only stated that the physician told him he was doing well. It wasn’t until a subsequent visit several months later that it was noted the patient had not scheduled a visit with the specialist. After undergoing evaluation and colonoscopy with a gastroenterologist, a full four months after the original consultation was ordered, the specialist diagnosed him with rectal cancer.

Protect Yourself and Your Practice

Has your practice done an assessment of potential risks related to new COVID-based policies? The challenges of providing care to patients during this pandemic have placed an additional burden on providers and practices who were already struggling with limited time, resources, and personnel. However, it’s important to take time to assess potential areas of liability.

If you have questions about how to protect your practice against COVID-19 collateral damage claims, please contact Curi’s Claims and Risk Management teams at 800.662.7917.

Naomi Tsujimura
Naomi Tsujimura is a Senior Medical Care Analyst based in Curi’s Raleigh, NC office.
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