Mask policy considerations for your practice
A patient arrives at your practice for their appointment and, though you had sent a notice about your office's new COVID-19 infection protocols, the patient is not wearing a face covering. It may be a case of simply forgetting and the patient will gladly accept a mask you offer. Or, it could be that a patient doesn't want to wear a mask. What now?
The dilemma has been the subject of discussion among doctors of optometry. AOA's General Counsel's Office share insights on the issue.
Is this a legal matter?
Yes, office policies related to patient face coverings would fall under the umbrella of being a legal matter, insofar as individuals who are negatively impacted by the decision could seek redress through legal or administrative action.
Can doctors of optometry refuse service to patients who decline to wear a mask?
Doctors can refuse to treat someone who refuses to wear a face covering, but such a policy must be applied thoughtfully and carefully. The policy must be applied to everyone and cannot selectively apply in a way that would discriminate against someone on the grounds of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. If a patient has a physical or mental condition that makes it difficult to wear a face covering during the examination, that could qualify as a disability that requires accommodation. For example, for a patient with asthma who cannot comfortably or safely wear a face covering, the doctor's staff may wear a higher level of personal protective equipment (such as an N95 mask and safety goggles) when treating the patient. Some doctors of optometry are offering patients masks if they arrive for their appointments without them. Read what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on the subject of the public wearing masks.
Should it be written policy?
Doctors may have a written policy for their offices. It is important the policy/policies are available to everyone and are not selectively applied. Once a policy is reduced to writing, it must be adhered to scrupulously.
If writing a policy for a practice, what considerations should be made?
The AOA and the AOA Health Policy Institute offer guidance, as well as an FAQ, for doctors of optometry on the subject of protocol for reactivating practices. Facts on the ground are fast-changing. Pay attention to updates on orders of state governors, as well as directives from county and local authorities. Guidance from federal agencies is updated frequently. These updates are frequently made without fanfare, so the AOA pays close attention to evolving guidance from the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies and updates its own guidance to members regularly.
Read the AOA's Optometry Practice Reactivation Preparedness Guide.
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