Disaster Privileging During COVID-19

Director of Credentialing Programs

COVID-19 has driven an increase in temporary staffing to meet healthcare demands, and with that comes the adjusted privileging requirements of disasters and states of emergency. Typically, however, qualifying disasters are natural phenomena that might cause power outages, internet loss, or other equipment failures that make background checks difficult. COVID-19 is different.

Organizations accredited by the Joint Commission must follow a specific disaster-privileging process. Even if your organization isn’t accredited by the Joint Commission, following their protocols is still best practice during a disaster. 

You don’t have to limit yourself to the minimum requirements. Here’s how to navigate disaster privileging during COVID-19 at your healthcare organization.

Maintain High Standards

The Joint Commission’s disaster-privileging process only requires verification of the practitioner’s state license and verification of specific government ID (as outlined in the standards). In disaster scenarios, you have 72 hours to primary source verify the state license. But since COVID-19 isn’t the type of disaster that causes loss of network connectivity, you can do more than you could during events like a hurricane or a wildfire. 

“While it was a disaster that required us to rapidly onboard a great deal of external providers, we still had several hours where we could verify a lot of information,” says Anne Roberts, Vice President, Medical Staff Services, at Mount Sinai Health System. “Even though we were granting disaster privileges, we went above and beyond the minimum of license and ID verification to continue to ensure a comprehensive credentialing process was in place.” Additionally, the ID verification can be done via a telecommunications device, so long as the telecommunication method includes both video and audio capabilities. “We used FaceTime to quickly verify a volunteer’s ID and documented that ID verification in the credentials file,” Roberts continues.

If you have the staff and resources, run background checks, verify education and training, query the national practitioner database and look at federal sanctions, for example. A comprehensive talent screening software can aid you in this process.

Activate Credentials Systemwide

For large health systems, consider implementing a board resolution that allows your providers who are credentialed and privileged at any of your hospitals to be granted disaster privileges at all sites within the system. This increases your scheduling fluidity and helps you respond faster to changing patient needs. “We have eight hospitals, and through this process, we were able to grant system-wide disaster privileges so that our staff could easily move between the locations,” Roberts says. “The Joint Commission allowed for a System Chief Medical Officer to approve system-wide disaster privileges.”

Always check with your legal counsel to see if your state regulations or corporate structure allow you to take a systemwide approach. And remember, when granting disaster privileges, the organization’s Medical Staff leaders have 72 hours to decide whether to continue the disaster privileges, Roberts says. 

Identify Measures for Oversight

The Joint Commission requires continuous oversight of LIPs. Develop that infrastructure before bringing in volunteers. “Medical staff is required to define, in writing, what that oversight is going to look like,” Roberts says. “You need to make sure that you’re documenting what level of oversight these clinical volunteers are going to have, who's responsible for providing the oversight, and what the oversight entails.”

Finally, the Joint Commission requires that you have a mechanism in place to distinguish voluntary LIPs. This can be as simple as giving them different colored badges, Roberts says.

Although the privileging process changes during disasters, the quality of your screening doesn’t have to. If your medical staff services team has the resources, try to go above the Joint Commission’s minimum requirements of medical license and government ID. Ensuring quality patient care is more critical now than ever, and it starts with bringing on high-caliber talent.