Medical Law Client Alert: Massachusetts establishes new healthcare requirements for the treatment of patients with cognitive impairments

by Greg Vanden-Eykel

On August 9, 2018, Governor Baker signed legislation into law that is the first of its kind in the nation, creating a comprehensive approach toward improving the diagnosis and treatment process for patients in the Commonwealth with cognitive impairments including, but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Healthcare providers who are impacted by this new law should review their policies, procedures, and training materials to ensure compliance with these new requirements.

The new law, which became effective on August 9, 2018 requires the following:

Physicians, Physicians Assistants, Registered Nurses, and Practical Nurses Who Serve Adult Populations (Licensed as of August 9, 2018): The completion, on or before August 8, 2022, of a one-time continuing education course on the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cognitive impairments, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The new law is silent as to the continuing education requirements for physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, and practical nurses first licensed after August 9, 2018.  It is anticipated that these health care providers will receive the statutorily-required training as part of their continuing education once their respective Boards adopt the appropriate curriculum.

Physicians Only: The reporting, by a registered physician of an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis to a patient’s family member or legal personal representative upon an initial diagnosis, along with relevant treatment and diagnosis information and resources, if the patient has provided consent or is, in the physician’s judgment, incapacitated or unable to provide consent. The law exempts physicians from criminal liability, civil liability or disciplinary action from the board of registration in medicine for any decision made to communicate, or not communicate, with the family member of an individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Of note, this law does not define “family members” with whom physicians may communicate. Further, this law also does not specifically address whether a physician could be subject to penalties under the Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act (HIPAA), as investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, in connection with any decision made under this section.

Hospitals (By October 1, 2021): The creation and implementation of a plan for the recognition and management of patients with dementia or delirium in acute care settings that incorporates recommendations by the Alzheimer’s and related dementias acute care advisory committee established in 2014. The plan must be kept on file and made available to the Department of Public Health if requested.

For more information

For more information or if you have questions about complying with the new law, please contact Greg Vanden-Eykel at gvandeneykel@bglaw.com, or by phone at 617.654.8200.

Barton Gilman’s medical malpractice and aging services law team has a long and distinguished track record of providing comprehensive legal guidance and defense to physicians and health professionals, medical practice groups, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other aging services providers. To learn more, please visit www.bglaw.com/services/medical-malpractice-aging-services-defense/.