by Gerald Zarlengo, MD, Chairman & CEO, COPIC Insurance Company
It’s difficult to comprehend what has happened during the last several months. From the drastic change in daily routines to the unprecedented burden placed upon our health care system, all aspects of our lives have changed. For those in health care, their days often involve a mix of struggles – the struggle to understand where we are headed, the struggle to allocate finite resources, or the struggle against physical exhaustion to name a few. However, the one area I have not seen any struggle is the willingness of physicians and medical providers to step up and do what needs to be done.
I continue to be amazed at the dedication and resilience of those in the medical community. Their selfless actions and dedication are what will lead us out of this pandemic. Every week, they face difficult decisions that often carry heavy burdens. While many physicians are strong and capable of making these decisions, we need to do what we can, so they don’t carry all of the weight on their shoulders. They need our support and we need to step up for those on the frontlines of this crisis.
In addition to the difficult clinical challenges of COVID-19, physicians are trying to understand the ever-changing guidelines and how to best care for their patients and staff, along with having to wade through stressful ethical dilemmas. They have also been thrown into new environments where there is uncertainty and questions about practice standards. These are areas where COPIC has drawn upon our expertise to help.
COPIC is working closely with our partners to review liability issues that apply to COVID-19 situations. We are monitoring federal and state guidelines, analyzing how they impact physicians, and ultimately providing clarity about what is legally permitted when responding, sometimes with limited resources, to potential COVID-19 patients as well as other patients impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. These efforts included advocating for health care providers that government authorities recognize that providers be provided various liability protections given this unprecedented crisis. The federal government and the overwhelming majority of states have issued or passed orders, regulations, guidelines or legislation that provide a number of protections.
We’ve also offered our support for physicians thrust into the telehealth environment. While some are familiar with this setting, many others are learning quickly to adjust. COPIC’s team is providing guidance and resources so physicians feel comfortable in their ability to provide care through telemedicine in a way that is compliant with both federal and state law.
To help ease the strain on medical practices and facilities, COPIC established a COVID-19 Physician Program. The program provides temporary liability coverage for physicians who do not have other available insurance coverage, who are not currently a covered physician under a COPIC policy, and who will be providing professional services to a COPIC-insured practice or facility to assist with addressing COVID-19.
As we have heard, there is also great concern with how we are ensuring our providers are protected from acquiring the virus. The COPIC Medical Foundation has pledged $250,000 to the State of Colorado for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies in partnership with the Polis administration’s Innovation Response Team Task Force.
While discussions are often focused on the clinical aspects of treating patients and flattening the curve, we cannot forget the personal, emotional toll this is taking on medical providers. In addition to the open-access support services, such as the CareLine being offered through the Colorado Physician Health Program, COPIC is identifying and contracting with resources in each of our markets to provide confidential, no-cost access to psychologists and psychiatrists who understand the pressure health care providers are under.
As peers, we recognize the importance of being there for each other, and most importantly, being able to listen as providers need someone they can turn to during this turbulent time. We continue to have staff available to answer the increasingly complex questions arising from this crisis, and have Legal and HR Helplines, as well as our 24/7 Risk Management Hotline where a physician risk manager is available.
I don’t know what things will look like when we emerge from this nor how this will change the future of health care. I do know that I have faith in the minds and spirits of my fellow physicians, and that this has rekindled what drove me to become a doctor. As medical providers deliver compassion and care to patients affected by COVID-19, they deserve the same from us. It is our responsibility and is what needs to be done.
COPIC has posted an open access COVID-19 Information and Resources page on our website at www.callcopic.com/covid-19-information-and-resources. We will continue to update this information on a regular basis.