Although 2021 marks the close of an incredibly challenging year in healthcare, it does not mean that the risks faced in 2020 are gone. In 2021, we expect many impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ongoing response to the virus, to define the year in healthcare. According to OmniSure’s Chief Risk Officer, Laura Luck Martinez, a combination of new, discontinued, or altered services, the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and an increased frequency in reports of abuse will create additional risks to watch in 2021, both for healthcare facilities and physicians.
Trend #1: New, Discontinued, and Altered Services
Over the past year, we have seen some healthcare providers take on new roles and services, others discontinue services, and most everyone alter services in some way. Nursing facilities, for example, most of which historically had waivers allowing them to provide simple lab tests with insignificant risks of erroneous results, were required in the latter part of 2020 to start testing, tracking, and reporting on COVID-19 results for all residents and staff as often as twice a week. Many facilities scrambled to address the risk of false negatives and perhaps worse, false positives. Other healthcare providers have faced or are facing the discontinuation of services, as staffing numbers decline and restrictions force specialized clinics to close to conserve resources. Whenever this occurs, there is tremendous risk involved if the clinic doesn’t properly notify patients. Surgery clinics, for example, must consider post-operative global care timelines that might be impacted by closures. Whether providing new services, discontinuing services, or altering the way in which services are delivered, such as through telehealth, it is vital that there is comprehensive communication with all stakeholders as well as other measures to prepare for changes in health services within a community.
Trend #2: Mental Health
Reports show rising levels of anxiety and depression, a troubling trend made worse by COVID-19, loneliness and isolation. In addition, an alarming number of children report thoughts of suicide and self-harm, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report, which confirms the trend that mental health in the U.S. continues to get worse.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and response continues, the number of individuals affected by the virus continues to grow, and with it, the number of people who may have suffered significant life changes and losses. Healthcare providers are on the front lines of this battle. As such they are the most susceptible to anxiety, trauma, and depression themselves, and the most likely to identify it in their patients.
Healthcare organizations need a strategy to identify and address the mental health of both staff and patients. Mental health resources and awareness are important for all points of care—inpatient and ambulatory alike. While not every healthcare provider is expected to conduct a psychological assessment for every patient, in these challenging times awareness is key and having a strategy, including mental health first aid training, and resources available is a good risk reduction strategy. In some settings, lack of preparation could be used as a negligence or malpractice allegation. Be proactive by setting up a strategy for your facility and conducting training with your staff.
Trend #3: Abuse
As insurers grapple with the effects of the #MeToo movement, expect an increased spotlight on sexual misconduct, assault, and abuse claims in all industries, including healthcare. Carriers are revisiting policy forms and rescripting coverages. Sexual abuse has not taken a back seat to the COVID crisis like many other types of lawsuits and claims have.
Stricter precautions, standards and measures are necessary to reduce the risk of sexual abuse, and to protect patients, staff, and other members of our community. Organizations in the most caring of professions are also the most vulnerable to bad actors. In addition to screening and abuse prevention policies, organizations need to proactively expect the unimaginable. Abuse prevention committees must force themselves to imagine worst case scenarios, consider all possible vulnerable situations, create clear boundaries and communicate acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Organizations must build a culture that rewards those who speak up about uncomfortable situations, even the seemingly trivial concerns. Document reported incidents, near misses, or concerns no matter their severity. Every organization should provide anonymous reporting processes and conduct routine surveys to make sure that everyone is clearly aware of expectations and has the power and opportunity to act. Organizations that demonstrate a strong intolerance for abuse of any nature, most especially sexual misconduct, are less likely to be considered easy targets for perpetrators.
2021 will likely be another challenging year for our industry, but with the support to face the hurdles ahead, you are more likely to succeed. OmniSure is your partner in risk management, providing resources for learning, a helpline so that you’re never alone in a difficult situation, and specialists in your field who understand what you’re up against. Contact us today to make your year more risk-fit.