March 9, 2021
See related article "Sample — Mask requirement message for patients."
In response to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate beginning March 10, physicians have reported widespread confusion among their patients about whether or not patients should continue to wear masks when they visit physician offices.
The CDC and other public health advocates continue to recommend the use of masks and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Health care providers should use current recommendations from the CDC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state medical associations, and specialty societies to develop their practice policies.
TMLT Risk Management recommends that physicians clearly communicate their office mask policies to patients (see sample message). This can be done by:
- sending a secure email or portal message to all patients that explains your practice’s mask requirements;
- posting the requirements on your practice website and patient portal;
- asking schedulers and staff to notify patients of mask requirements when scheduling appointments;
- using your automated phone message and appointment reminder systems to keep patients informed of mask requirements;
- posting the requirements inside and outside your practice;
- including the requirements on your intake documents; and
- reminding patients about the requirements on social media.
To emphasize the importance of your policy, consider having your mask notification messages sent from and/or signed by the physicians in your practice.
Other risk management considerations
- Have clear practice protocols in place to address unmasked patients. Empower staff to follow the protocol, and back them up by enforcing the policy. Discuss how to respond if someone becomes belligerent or threatens staff.
- Consider offering telehealth appointments to those who say they cannot comply with mask requirements.
- Carefully document any incidents in which patients refuse to comply with your mask requirements.
- If a patient’s refusal to wear a mask is extreme and dismissal from the practice is considered, follow the guidelines discussed in these videos: Terminating the patient-physician relationship Part 1 and Part 2.
- Sample patient mask message — Customize for your practice
- Current face mask requirements and other COVID-19 policies (TMA)
- CDC — Healthcare Facilities: Managing Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- CDC — Guidance for wearing masks
- TMA to Texas: Follow the science to protect against COVID-19
- COVID-19 Legal Risks: Requiring Masks at Your Practice (Physician’s Practice)
- Prepare for patients who refuse to wear a mask in your practice (Physician’s Practice)
- Tips for de-escalating angry patients
- Terminating the patient-physician relationship Part 1 and Part 2.