Keep a COVID-19 Diary: Document Now in Case of Future Lawsuits
Debbie Kane Hill, MBA, RN, CPHRM, CPPS
from OSMA partner The Doctors Company
What the future holds relative to the evolution of COVID-19 remains unknown, but it is certain that litigation for COVID-related claims is on the horizon and will impact physicians in all medical specialties and practice models.
According to attorney John E. Hall Jr., founding partner of Hall Booth Smith in Atlanta, Georgia, which specializes in defense of high-exposure cases involving hospitals and medical malpractice claims, COVID-19 claims are looming in the next one to three years.
Mr. Hall addresses the most important questions and provides his expert guidance.
Are there existing medical liability protections in place?
The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) provides a significant safeguard for physicians. The act provides complete preemption, meaning that “any state law or other federal law that contravenes the PREP Act is replaced by the PREP Act. Except in cases of death or severe injury caused by willful misconduct, the PREP Act provides complete immunity, with no liability under those circumstances” if the claim is COVID-19 related and the case is tried in the federal court system, according to Mr. Hall. In addition to the PREP Act, states have established some level of immunity for medical practices through healthcare immunity orders or executive limited liability orders.
What types of claims are anticipated?
It is expected that COVID-driven claims will take a variety of forms. Some claims may allege:
- Delayed or missed diagnosis due to lack of patient follow-up
- Failure to triage/assess including testing issues, resulting in missed Covid-19 diagnosis/intervention
- Failure to immunize
- Delayed care in office visits, testing, labs, and procedures
- Failure to adhere to infection control protocol and/or lack of PPE
- Limited healthcare resources (hospital beds, ventilators, etc.)
What steps can physicians take now to prepare to defend claims in the future?
Mr. Hall suggests that one of the best ways to establish defense of these claims is for practices to begin developing a timeline/diary now describing how COVID-19 events unfolded within their specific practice and community. Some considerations may include:
- Was your practice ever unable to obtain PPE?
- What was the infection rate within your community at a given time?
- Did you follow infection control protocols per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines? If so, what were those guidelines at the time?
Documenting these items now ensures information is captured in its most accurate form, rather than trying to re-establish the facts years later. This information will not appear in patient medical records, yet it paints the landscape as to how the practice adapted to a very volatile crisis. It will form the foundation for your defense.
Crucially, he adds, “It is important to note that this information should be gathered at the direction of an attorney, peer, or quality committee so as to protect the information from discovery.”
Appoint a practice historian who is responsible for developing and keeping the timeline up to date and well documented. This can be a physician, practice manager, or risk manager, but it should be someone familiar with the overall operations of your COVID-19 response who will reliably maintain the timeline from start to finish. To provide guidance on what types of items to document, The Doctors Company provides a sample checklist of important record-keeping elements and recommends keeping this in an administrative diary.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.
No matter the stage of your medical career, you will find value and professional resources with OSMA. Together, we can help advance the way you practice medicine.
If you have questions about this information
or OSMA’s services to physicians:
Call 800-766-6762 or email OSMA.