CMS encourages resumption of in-person care: 8 things to know

CMS is encouraging healthcare organizations to reopen facilities for nonemergency care and released a new set of guidelines and considerations for them to follow.

Many health systems suspended elective procedures in mid-March to keep patients and providers safe and ensure capacity to care for COVID-19 patients. Efforts to restart those procedures safely are underway.

"While telehealth has proven to be a lifeline, nothing can absolutely replace the gold standard: in-person care," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said. "Americans need their healthcare, and our healthcare heroes are working overtime to deliver it safely. Those needing operations, vaccinations, procedures, preventive care or evaluation for chronic conditions should feel confident seeking in-person care when recommended by their provider."

Eight things to know: 

1. The new guidelines are for states that are in phase two of the federal reopening plan, which means that the state or region has no evidence of a rebound and has already satisfied the Gating Criteria, which are items that states or regions needed to hit before proceeding to phase one of the reopening plan. 

2. CMS recommends that providers prioritize resuming services for at-risk populations and for procedures that, if deferred, would likely result in patient harm.

3. Facilities should take steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission. This may include establishing a separate area where all patients can be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. It also includes dedicating a separate space for COVID-19 patients and avoiding crossover of patients, staff and supplies.

4. It is recommended that clinical staff who work with COVID-19 patients, or in a unit that may be exposed, are screened upon arrival and tested when appropriate. 

5. The number of visitors allowed in a hospital or outpatient site should still be minimized, CMS said. 

6. For hospitalized patients or those undergoing an operation, testing for COVID-19 should be prioritized and performed 24 hours prior to the procedure. If a test is not available, patients should self-isolate for 14 days. 

7. CMS also recommends that staff wear surgical face masks at all times in the facility, unless they are working with COVID-19 patients and need an N95 respirator. 

8. The workforce must be sufficient and able to adjust and respond quickly to support COVID-19 care if necessary. 

Access the full set of guidelines and considerations here. 

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