Vax status checks in WA and understanding the law
If mandatory vaccination applies to customers in a health studio, how about patients and their partners attending your rooms in private practice? There are nuances depending on where your practice is located. There are new regulations effective today 31st January in Western Australia and because of the complexity for health professionals who operate their rooms in different settings, we will ask for legal advice, speaking with Steven Brown, a lawyer at Lynn and Brown Lawyers in Perth.
Vax status checks in WA and understanding the law
January 31, 2022
Western Australia’s strict vaccine mandates
There has been a lively debate in Australia’s most isolated state recently and today marks the start of a new chapter, with more restrictions for unvaccinated people.
If strict access regulations apply for consumers attending a spa or a health studio, what does it mean for a medical practice? Is there a difference if your rooms are on-site at the hospital, in an adjacent building, or in a private building around town? And have we reached the stage where we need a medico-legal expert to make sense of the regulations as a doctor?
I spoke with Steven Brown of Lynn and Brown Lawyers in Perth and he sees a grey area around the regulations for a support person who comes with the patient, into a private health clinic or into a hospital environment.
If you are unsure about the legal framework for your medical practice in regards to proof-of-vaccination rules, you can contact Steven here.
Create clarity for your patients
Our customers in private practice have done amazing work in the last 2 years, improving the way they provide the highest possible levels of clarity to their patients. What we have seen is a big push for clarity, and that includes making sure your digital channels are designed for it.
There is the matter of liability and maybe involving your medico-legal expert at some point. But let’s start with the patient’s information needs. There are a few ways you can make sure that your current and future patients get as much clarity from you as possible:
- Popup screens and videos: A popup screen when patients visit your website is a proven method to draw attention to a change in policies, a new procedure or a new restriction. Your popup can even have a video, that you can easily replace in a matter of minutes, you now have a vehicle to communicate with your community in the most effective and timely way.
- Email updates: Want to quickly send out an email blast to all your patients? It’s worth having a dedicated Latest News page that you can quickly change yourself, so all you have to do is send out the email with a link.
- Google Business: Your Google Business profile is essential in times of frequent policy changes and it has specific sections to update any pandemic-related topics that apply to your rooms, your practice or the hospital environment you work in. Make sure you know how to update your profile, and that you have fully claimed your profile in a way that allows your team to quickly access it and make changes.
The legal side of covid related advice
medico-legal advice on covid
The RACGP, in their earlier communication about the doctor’s responsibility around vaccination and mask mandates, mentioned other situations where you might need legal advice as a doctor.
Providing incorrect advice against health authority guidelines can be seen as a legal liability, for example, if the patient catches COVID-19 and you have given them an exemption of any form. The legal side of pandemic restrictions and the mandates are one thing. Your role as a doctor exploring what works best for them is based on a different set of obligations.
The framework put in place by each state and territory is relevant if you are a practice manager or a receptionist and adds to the workload of informing the patient, answering questions and dealing with situations.
As Perth based lawyer Steven Brown explains, some healthcare businesses have already started involving their legal advisor and working out the nuts and bolts of dealing with access restrictions, hospital guidelines and applicable health authority guidelines. Sometimes the help you need relates to the legal framework for small businesses, in other situations you will need the support of an experienced medico-legal expert.
As a doctor, what can you say about vaccine safety?
talking to patients about vaccines
If you work in customer service, for example at the reception desk of a medical practice, you would have had a different type of conversation recently, compared to 3 years ago. Questions, comments, debates and polarised opinions about the management of this pandemic can be exhausting for anyone in those roles.
Customer service training and communication skills training have become more relevant than ever. As a doctor, you are expected to offer expertise and authority. As a specialist in orthopaedics or obstetrics, you can not be expected to also fully grasp the entire current spectrum of what is happening in virology.
This interesting balance doesn’t mean you have to ignore the elephant in the room. Informing your patients about what vaccination or virus-related risks mean for them can be a big mission in itself. After all, you either have data to back up your statements or you don’t. And in the current situation, that may prove to be tricky because there is overwhelm and information scarcity at the same time.
The most obvious need patients have is clarity and trust. And that requires additional work in your practice. You will want to make sure that receptionists, practice managers, allied health associates, nurses and surgeons all speak the same language when virus or vaccine questions pop up.
This is almost a matter of scripting the key messages around the pandemic and your practice, so your team maintains high levels of authority without overstepping your authority. With the sensitivities around both the virus and the vaccine, it almost comes to a point where you would need media and communications training as a doctor, to make sure your messages are balanced and acceptable for your patient cohort.
Why now is the time to ‘go social’
social media for doctors
Before the pandemic, specialists and surgeons would ask me over and over again if they needed a social media presence.
"When planning a digital strategy as a doctor, the starting point is always the area where patients are already looking for you: Google. Social media can be a great additional way to drive traffic, but the focus point is to be visible if you don’t want to miss out on patients who need you now!"
So what has changed? In times with lots of acute changes to protocols and procedures, communication is key.
That is why we recommend the agile communication tools described earlier in this article, and if you really want to cover as many communication avenues as possible, here’s a few more:
- Facebook Messenger: a chat function that allows patients to use their Messenger app to ask a quick question, can definitely add to the overall feeling of being informed.
- YouTube: a quick DIY video uploaded from your phone to your YouTube channel can provide the update of the week, covering applicable regulations and restrictions and the potential impact of the pandemic on activities in your specialty area, in your catchment area.
- LinkedIn: As a specialist, distributing your updates to a network of general practitioners in your catchment area is another great way to spread the word and keep the community informed.
Social media was long seen as a way of simply advertising your practice. In this new normal, it’s about opening communication channels with your community, and systemising them so your reception team can help patients no matter what platform they are using to reach out.
We help you communicate
communications training for doctors
The skill of concise and consistent communication is more important than ever in your clinic. If your team needs help structuring the digital tools and platforms, so you can communicate with referrers, patients and the wider community, we’re only a Zoom call away. Book your obligation-free consultation now and let’s talk about creating more clarity for your patients.