I have noticed a recent uptick in the number of complaints (and sometimes ensuing disciplinary action) related to communication between patients/clients and healthcare providers. Understandably, some healthcare providers closed their practices or reduced services or hours during the pandemic. Despite the unusual circumstances leading to such action, healthcare providers still owe a duty to patients and must fulfill their obligations to ensure that patient needs are met. Healthcare providers cannot abandon patients, even in a pandemic.
Many such complaints alleged that healthcare providers failed to timely communicate, provide information, or provide care. Patients have been frustrated when healthcare providers failed to timely respond to their questions or requests for information, including test results. Providers would be well served by discussing and documenting their availability, plan, and expected timelines at the outset. Healthcare providers should routinely communicate with patients, including during unexpected closures, and provide detailed information about how they can be reached, when they will be available, when they expect to respond, and how patients can obtain the information and care they need. Providers can leave a detailed message for telephone calls, update their telephone greetings, regularly monitor emails, set up automatic email replies, and detail information on their websites and social media posts
Communication should be clear, timely, and documented. If a delay occurs, that should also be communicated with the patient and appropriately documented. Proactive communication and transparency can go a long way to avoid a complaint. Healthcare providers are working diligently to meet the needs of patients during these challenging times. Effective and timely communication can support those efforts and hopefully help you avoid a complaint.