Viewpoint: How to respond to patients who refuse to wear masks

The COVID-19 pandemic is raising new liability questions for providers on how to handle situations in which patients refuse to wear a mask, attorney and former nurse practitioner Carolyn Buppert, MSN, wrote in an op-ed for Medscape.

If patients refuse staff members' request to wear a mask in a healthcare facility and they are not in visible distress, Ms. Buppert suggested the following responses:

  1. Send the patient home and offer them another visit if they wear a mask or when the pandemic is over

  2. Offer the patients a telehealth appointment 

If patients decline to wear a mask for medical reasons, providers should test their ability to breath while masked using a pulse oximeter.

"'Put the mask on, and we'll see how you do' is a reasonable response," Ms. Buppert said.

She said there is no legal basis for healthcare organizations to be accused of patient abandonment if they refuse to treat an unmasked patient. This is not an act of denying care, but rather an effort to establish reasonable conditions for receiving care, she argued.

Allowing unmasked patients to stay at the facility could make healthcare organizations liable for negligence if other patients are exposed to COVID-19, since the organizations have a duty to provide reasonably safe public spaces, Ms. Buppert said.

To view the full op-ed, click here.

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