ASHA is sharing information and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to help you protect yourself, staff, clients/patients/students, and other individuals involved in your audiology or speech-language pathology practice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide regular updates as the situation unfolds. ASHA suggests you routinely check with these agencies for up-to-date guidance on prevention and treatment.
Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with and follow any official COVID-19 guidance issued by your employer.
The CDC provides information for health care providers at various levels of care, including those who directly work with infected individuals. For general prevention, the CDC recommends the following preventive measures to increase community resilience and readiness for response to an outbreak:
- Voluntary home isolation: Stay home when you are sick with respiratory disease symptoms. At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus.
- Respiratory etiquette: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
- Hand hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
- Environmental health action: Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects.
Handling of in-person appointments
Encountering illness among your clients, patients, and students presents a different challenge. It is important to know and follow your employer’s guidance relative to COVID-19. This guidance may include a policy about treatment of people who are sick and might be contagious. If a policy doesn’t exist, it might be appropriate to proactively establish a policy and disseminate it.
You may want to send a message encouraging individuals to stay home if they are sick. It might also be appropriate for you to forgo cancellation fees during this time. If an individual is too ill to actively engage in or benefit from the services provided, it is necessary to cancel or reschedule the appointment.
During this timeframe, alternative service delivery models, such as telepractice, may be an option. Use of telepractice depends on several factors: appropriateness of telepractice as a service-delivery method for a client’s/patient’s/student’s communication needs; availability of HIPAA-compliant telepractice technology; legal or regulatory requirements, including state licensure laws; and reimbursement considerations. Check with your employer, payer, and state licensing board before engaging in telepractice.
These additional resources may also be helpful to you:
- Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) on COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment
- ASHA’s Infection Control Resources for Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists
- ASHA’s Telepractice Practice Portal
Assess personal risk; take precautions
While the welfare of the client/patient/student is paramount, ASHA’s Issues in Ethics: Client Abandonment states, “no clinician is ever ethically required to work… in physical danger in order to offer client care.” For staff who may be at higher health risk, your employer may consider alternatives to reduce the potential exposure to clients/patients/students who are ill.
Depending on the current CDC Travel Health Notice information, you may want to ask clients/patients/students and families about their recent travel plans and consider a waiting period for in-person encounters in the interest of everyone’s safety. If you are sick and possibly contagious, please alert your employer, clients/patients/students, and caregivers of the need to cancel or reschedule sessions.
ASHA will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19. Audiologists and speech-language-pathologists are encouraged to remain aware of current guidance on COVID-19 by visiting the webpages of the CDC and WHO, and by viewing national, state, and local news updates.
Ann-Mari Pierotti, MS, CCC-SLP, is ASHA associate director, clinical issues in speech-language pathology. firstname.lastname@example.org
*ASHA staff in audiology and speech-language pathology professional practices contributed to this post.