Monday, December 11, 2017

OCMA Blog

Rising Number of Measles Cases Creates Numerous Patient Safety Issues

As more measles cases are diagnosed, physicians should implement effective screening protocols, infection control techniques, and patient education to reduce liability risks and promote patient safety. Since initial presenting symptoms of measles are similar to those of upper respiratory infections, measles may be misdiagnosed before a patient presents with the familiar red rash.


Exposure to measles in a medical office or facility is a serious patient safety issue because of the potential for complications from the disease, including death. The disease is airborne and extremely contagious. An infected individual is considered contagious from four days before to four days after the rash appears. The rash usually appears 14 days after a person is exposed; however, the incubation period ranges from 7 to 21 days.

Your practice can reduce liability risks and promote patient safety by:

  • Developing screening protocol for patients calling in with symptoms of upper respiratory infections and measles. Staff should query the individual regarding exposure to known measles cases, travel abroad, and immunization status.
  • Documenting all discussions with patients and parents of minors regarding measles, including the risks and benefits of inoculation. When patients/parents decline measles immunization, consider using an informed refusal form: www.thedoctors.com/ecm/groups/public/@tdc/@web/@kc/@patientsafety/documents/form/con_id_001221.pdf. Patients who contract measles and claim that their physician never discussed inoculation represent a potentially significant liability.
  • Providing serologic testing for immunity, when necessary, and documenting all related discussions with patients who are unsure of their immunity status against measles.
  • Ensuring that immunization tracking is up to date and well documented in the medical record.
  • Complying with state laws for the provision of vaccines to healthcare workers. For more information, go to www2a.cdc.gov/nip/statevaccapp/statevaccsapp/default.asp.
  • Advising those who may have come in contact with an infected individual to contact their physician immediately.
  • Ensuring that office staff members are trained to use personal protective equipment and proper isolation techniques.

Follow these tips if you or your staff suspects a patient has measles symptoms:

  • Minimize the risk of exposure to others by admitting the patient through a separate entrance and isolating him or her in an exam room. If possible, schedule the patient at the end of the day. The exam room should not be used until the following day since the virus can live on surfaces for up to two hours. Keep the exam room door closed.
  • Place a surgical mask on the patient and ensure that all office staff members wear protective equipment.
  • Follow standard disinfection and sterilization procedures for exam rooms.
  • Report suspected cases to the local health department.
  • Consider making post-exposure prophylaxis available to those who have been exposed. Post-exposure vaccination can be effective in preventing measles in some individuals. As an alternative, Immunoglobulin, if administered within six days, can offer some protection.

Contributed by The Doctors Company. For more patient safety articles and practice tips, visit www.thedoctors.com/patientsafety


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