Because of the nature of our work, the durable medical equipment industry did not close our doors, shelter in place, or shut down for the Covid-19 Pandemic. We did, however, change the way we do business in many ways. Some of these changes will undoubtedly get back to normal as our nation and the world climb out of the pandemic. And of course, many of these changes will become the “new normal” and are destined to remain changed forever. At the time this blog article is being written, HQAA is carefully monitoring the industry as well as law and regulation and CMS policy to determine how accreditation surveys will be performed in both the short and long term. More on that in the weeks to come.
Meanwhile, although the crisis is certainly not over, it is probably a good time to do a quick check to make sure that we’ve maintained our policies & procedures, our quality customer service, and our accreditation readiness. Disasters, pandemics, and unrest are challenges, but they aren’t acceptable excuses for relaxing our compliance.
As the industry and the world in general starts to re-open, take a quick inventory of your organization. Here are some good places to start:
Warehouse & Equipment Storage Areas
- Are staff maintaining separation between “clean” and “dirty” areas?
- Is equipment stored properly?
- Is your inventory and equipment tracking process up to date?
- Is equipment maintenance being done and is it current?
- Is equipment cleaning/disinfecting done in compliance with Covid 19 guidelines?
Patient Care & Retail Areas
- Are the various areas that patient/customers access set up to help maintain social distancing?
- Is staff enforcing/encouraging that patient/customers wear masks (if that’s the protocol in your area)?
- Is there hand wash gel available to staff and also patient/customers and are staff encouraging its use?
- Are changes that your organization has made in these areas still respectful of HIPAA?
- Has your organization educated staff on your protocols (especially new protocols) for deliveries and do the staff members understand their role?
- Do the delivery vehicles and/or delivery staff have adequate and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- Are billing staff aware of new billing processes in place because of Covid 19?
- Ensure that any processes or protocols in place post Covid 19 are compliant with law and regulation.
- With staff working from home and new processes for gathering data from referral sources, are your new and revised processes HIPAA compliant? HIPAA hasn’t gone away because of the pandemic.
- Are licenses (both professional and also driver’s licenses) up to date? Some entities have relaxed deadlines but some haven’t. And regardless, you’ll eventually need to gather any expired licenses for the human resource record for each employee. Make sure you are tracking the information that expires, so that you can update the files as appropriate as these standards and rules return to normal.
- Ditto educational programs and in-service training. You may choose to delay these during the short term, but you’ll need to “catch up” once the crisis is over.
- If you’ve hired new staff, are they properly oriented and is that orientation and any competency assessment documented?
- Are you tracking when competency assessments and performance evaluations are due? If you are delaying these activities due to Covid 19, you’ll want to have a system to make sure you eventually catch the files and documentation up.
Marketing and Public Relations
- Don’t forget to reach out and communicate with referral sources during these troubling times. It’s probably not a good time to set up times to visit physician offices, but make sure you keep the referral sources aware of any changes to hours you are open, delivery policies, etc.
- Communicate with your patient/customers as well. Use your normal channels, whether they are mailed newsletters, social media posts, or email blasts. Consider more frequent updates with helpful information. This is a good time to provide extra patient education and be a leader in establishing healthcare awareness. Our patient/customers perceive us to be “experts”. Let’s act like it, and help get them information. For some, this information we send out will be redundant, but if it reaches everyone and is useful to just a small percentage of those that receive it, it was worth the effort. An example: One CPAP provider in my hometown has sent out multiple reminders to change/clean filters, masks, tubing, and humidification devices. A pandemic is probably a really bad time for CPAP users to relax their cleaning and supply changing process; do them a favor and remind them.
Of course, this list is far from comprehensive. But it serves as a reminder that this too shall pass. And once it passes, we’ll get back to normal. Keeping processes and the way we do business consistent makes for an easier return to normal. Stay on top of the changes that are occurring in your community and in healthcare in general so your organization can not only weather the current crisis, but also come out of it stronger and better than ever. Remember the old adage: “Tough times never last, but tough people do”!