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Mobile COVID-19 Units: Vaccination and Testing

Posted/Updated on 5/27/21 3:00 PM

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry has been engaged in strategic initiatives to identify outbreaks and prevent the spread of the virus. The CDC, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies are currently working with local health departments to stand up venues to make vaccinations more readily available, especially in rural areas. Often, these agencies are working with healthcare providers, pharmacies, employers, faith-based organization, and others to accomplish their mission. Similar to mobile COVID-19 testing units, these mobile sites may be temporary pop-up sites, or may be on wheels—able to travel from place to place. As eligibility to receive the vaccine expands and as the vaccine supply increases, it will become increasingly important to make the vaccine readily available to all. While these efforts to make testing and vaccination broadly available and convenient may have a positive impact on regional prevention tactics, operating mobile vaccination and mobile testing units are not without risk.

A primary liability risk issue associated with mobile COVID-19 testing services is inadvertently establishing a physician-patient relationship. The point at which the physician-patient relationship is established is not always clear and absolute. It depends on the specific facts of each situation and in some cases, the jurisdiction in which the service is taking place. Once a relationship has been established, a physician has a duty to provide care until it is no longer necessary, or the relationship is terminated by one of the parties.

A preliminary consideration in the planning of mobile COVID-19 unit is determining the limitations of the services contemplated. For example, in a testing scenario, will you only be notifying individuals of their results; or will you be providing a more comprehensive service that includes interpreting results, diagnosing COVID-19, and/or recommending treatment? Any involvement with patients at a mobile unit beyond either vaccination, or collecting a specimen and delivering test results, most likely creates a physician-patient relationship. Consequently, if the plan is to provide additional services, non-patients should be treated as would any other new patient to the practice. If the plan is to provide limited services, such limitations should be clearly communicated.

Consider the following risk management recommendations when providing vaccinations or testing to non-patients with whom a physician-patient relationship is not contemplated:

Topics: COVID-19

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The information provided on this site offers risk management recommendations and resource links. The information does not constitute a legal opinion, nor is it a substitute for legal advice. Legal inquiries about this topic should be directed to an attorney. NORCAL Group makes no representation regarding compliance with state or federal law by offering these resources. These documents and links are provided for your convenience and reference only, and the provision of these materials does not mean NORCAL Group is affiliated or associated with these organizations.