In general, most malpractice insurance policies — also known as professional liability insurance — can protect you against claims that involve COVID-19. However, as with all policies, there are exceptions you should know.
For example, Psychiatric Times states it’s essential to remember that “...most policies exclude willful or intentional conduct and many also exclude gross negligence.”
Below, we’ll discuss the nuances of malpractice claims related to COVID-19, how they may become more prominent in the future, how to mitigate these risks, and additional ways you can protect your dental career from malpractice claims:
What Type of Claims Might Involve COVID-19?
1. Transmission of COVID-19 and its Variants to a Patient
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other precautions are crucial components of protecting yourself, your staff, and your patients from COVID-19. During the peak of COVID-19 infections, it was imperative for your practice to meet any state, local, and national PPE requirements to keep your staff and patients safe.
While PPE requirements may have changed as of late due to updated information regarding the virus, you still need to ensure your practice is abiding with the stipulations of your practice area to avoid accidental non-compliance.
If your practice has failed to meet and enforce these guidelines at any point during the COVID-19 pandemic, you could be at risk for a malpractice claim in the next few years.
It’s important to note that even though PPE helps protect your employees, malpractice insurance will not cover the transmission to employees. Review your worker’s compensation policies thoroughly to understand how your staff is protected.
2. Denial of Services to Patients Due to Lack of Capacity or PPE
Deferral of checkups, appointments to manage chronic conditions, or similar appointments due to a lack of capacity or PPE can also put you at risk of a malpractice claim both now and in the future.
In some instances, you may also face a claim if you’re currently using or have used teledentistry to supplement your services, as this may create additional risks for patients managing chronic or severe conditions.
3. Claims Regarding Additional Services
During certain health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists have been granted the ability to give vaccinations.
In March 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued“ [a] federal declaration [that] allows licensed dentists throughout the country to vaccinate the public against COVID-19, regardless of state laws that prevent dentists from doing so.”
While this is beneficial in encouraging public health, it can also lead to malpractice concerns if you currently provide services, or were providing those services in the past, that you don’t typically offer.
4. Accidental Negligence
While the COVID-19 pandemic and preventive measures are crucial, it’s also essential to remain focused on your other malpractice prevention processes.
As the Psychiatric Times mentions, one of the “greatest risk[s]” is that providers would have been so focused on mitigating “COVID-related safety issues that they may [have] overlook[ed] traditional typical patient safety and risk mitigation efforts.”
If your practice maintained previous processes and implemented the precautionary COVID-19 strategies on top of your existing plan, you helped prevent malpractice claims related to accidental negligence.
Mitigate the Risk of COVID-19 Malpractice Claims
There are several steps you can take to mitigate the risk of these claims:
- Follow federal, state, and local guidelines as close as possible. Continue implementing PPE if available in high-risk areas regardless of current guidelines as an extra precaution.
- Ensure that you proactively inform your staff and patients about the measures you will take to keep them safe, including executing the CDC’s Standard Precautions.
- Stay up-to-date with legislation regarding COVID-19 and any potential variants through the Medical Professional Liability Association and update your practice’s COVID-19 safety plan as needed.
You can also educate yourself on malpractice updates and prepare for potential future claims related to COVID-19. While few claims have been made so far, malpractice lawsuits regarding COVID-19 have the potential to appear later.
One fundamental way to protect you and your staff is by being thorough about documentation and records. It is suggested that providers should “Document staff training, along with any furloughs and leaves of absence for providers who were concerned about the disease. Maintain a floor plan noting how isolation works for patients [and staff] that are COVID-19 positive or suspected COVID-19 positive. Also, keep evidence of any reviews of quality assurance or compliance.”
By maintaining all relevant documentation, you can quickly find the information you need if you find yourself battling a malpractice claim in the future.
What Additional Protection Do Providers Have?
For certain situations, you may be protected under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. In addition, several states have implemented their own liability protections for providers.
Be sure to review all local and national regulations to know your protections against COVID-19-related malpractice claims outside of your professional liability policy.
Protect Your Dental Career
Regardless of the current status of COVID-19 and potential claims, malpractice insurance can be challenging to navigate, but you don’t have to do it alone. You can get the coverage you need by educating yourself and working with professional liability insurance experts.
With the right resources, you can learn about malpractice insurance, including:
- Policy types and limits.
- Consent to settle agreements.
- Additional risk management.
Download the Dental Malpractice Insurance Survival Kit today to learn more about how malpractice coverage can help protect your career.
About Treloar & Heisel
Treloar & Heisel, an EPIC Company, is a financial services provider to dental and medical professionals across the country. Our insurance and wealth management divisions assist thousands of clients from residency through retirement. We strive to deliver the highest level of service with custom-tailored advice and a strong national network.