Zika virus poses risk management challenge for US healthcare


The Zika virus is a risk management concern for both individual and institutional health care providers in the US, according to Mark Kadzielski, a partner with law firm Pepper Hamilton and Janet Feldkamp, a partner with the healthcare department of law firm Benesch Friedlander Coplan and Aronoff.

“Patients expect that proper and correct education and counseling will be provided, based on evolving information about this infection,”. said Kadzielski. “Most efforts regarding Zika will involve detection and treatment of infection, and should occur in an outpatient setting.

“Moreover, now that there is a rapid test for the virus, the standard of care for healthcare providers would be to use the test where available when Zika infection is suspected.”

Failure to properly educate and counsel patients, or to test for the presence of the Zika virus, might be deemed to be violations of the standard of care, thus subjecting health care providers to liability, he added.

Failure to warn, wrongful birth and emotional distress are among the causes of action that could be brought against health providers by patients and their families.

“In this highly charged environment, proper education and counseling with effective communication of risks to patients and families is the key to mitigating and avoiding liability risks.”

Obstetrical providers are impacted in a more significant way related to testing and counseling for pregnant and women in the childbearing years that may potentially become pregnant, added Feldcamp.

“Keeping current and updated about the presence of the Zika virus, concerns of patients and reacting to the media coverage are important for consideration by risk managers,” she said.

Feldkamp said that education of the the healthcare provider work force is important for the identification of potentially affected patients and for raising awareness of possible exposure to the virus from healthcare workers.  

“Many healthcare providers have women of childbearing age and some providers have workers that may be traveling to parts of the world where the Zika virus infected mosquitoes are located,” she said

This is an evolving situation, added Kadzielski.  As in the Ebola crisis a year ago, US health providers are learning as they go, and keeping current with CDC directives and guidance is critically important. 

“Proceed cautiously and provide the best available information to patients whom you are counseling,” he said. “Test when appropriate and document thoroughly all of your conversations with patients regarding this virus.”

As with most emerging health issues, there is a range of preparedness by health care providers, said Feldcamp.  Diligent health care providers will be carefully monitoring provider associations, the CDC and other professional resources for any new and updated recommendations related to this virus that has only recently reached the US population.  

“Risk managers must keep current, bring changes to the attention of the operations professionals of the health care providers and assure that appropriate policies and procedures are timely developed,” she said.

“Following the development of the policies and procedures, the employee workforce must be trained and the care delivery should be monitored to assure that the policies and procedures are followed to provide quality of care.”

Zika virus, Risk management, Healthcare, Mark Kadzielski, Pepper Hamilton, Janet Feldkamp, Benesch Friedlander and Aronoff, US, Crisis management