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FAQs: RMTs’ return to practice, interim guidelines

On May 15, 2020, CMTBC published Interim guidelines for RMTs’ return to practice in Phase 2 of BC’s Restart Plan. CMTBC’s guidelines are consistent with direction provided by BC’s Provincial Health Officer, with the BC Centre for Disease Control, and with requirements set by WorkSafeBC, which has jurisdiction over practice settings in which there are employees.

CMTBC will update the frequently asked questions on a regular basis.

RMTs can contact [email protected] with questions about the FAQs below, or with other questions related to the Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice.

FAQ POSTED ON OCTOBER 6, 2020:

A member of my family is sick.  Can I still go to work?

 CMTBC follows the direction of public health authorities for all health related COVID-19 questions.

Where a member of the RMT’s family (or close connections who share the home with the RMT) becomes sick, the RMT should contact 8-1-1 for guidance related to the need to self-isolate, get tested or monitor symptoms.

I have experienced a number of same-day cancellations due to a patient’s sickness or symptoms, that leave openings in my schedule.  Can I fill these openings with patients from my cancellation list without having completed the required pre-screening?

The Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice stress the importance of ensuring that all who enter an RMT’s place of work are healthy.  It is an RMT’s responsibility to minimize the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus. Same-day appointments are not consistent with CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines Section 1: Pre-screening, yet CMTBC is aware that some RMTs are accepting same-day appointments.

Let’s take a look at why the College recommends extreme caution with respect to this practice.

The symptoms of COVID-19 develop over time. Day-prior pre-screening allows an RMT to inform patients of safety protocols and gain assurance that all those who enter an RMT’s place of work will consider the protocols, ask questions about the rationale for them, provide their informed consent to the safety protocols, and comply when they arrive for their massage therapy appointment. By asking patients to take the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment the day before an appointment, an RMT engages their patient in a process of decision-making that impacts not just themselves, but all those with whom the RMT and the patient interacts.

Upon a patient’s arrival at the RMT’s place of work, repeating the COVID-19 self-assessment ensures that no new symptoms have developed, thus minimizing risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus.  The repeated screening lessens the risk of an asymptomatic but contagious patient presenting for treatment.  Also, safety protocols apply both to the patient and to the RMT; at the time of the appointment, an RMT has the opportunity to advise their patient that they have also completed the self-assessment and are free of symptoms.

As we transition into the fall and winter months, my patients have requested heat during treatments.  Am I able to use a thermophore, table warmer or other thermal agents during treatment?

Regular cleaning and disinfection play a role in minimizing the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus. RMTs must continue to minimize the risk of viral transmission when considering the use of thermal agents.

The Interim Guidelines, Section 5: Enhanced Cleaning state that RMTs are to “[c]ease use of thermophores (reconsider all hydrotherapy supplies and discontinue use of thermal agents that cannot be sanitized)”.

The College understands that many RMTs have successfully incorporated vinyl covers for heating devices. This is acceptable, where the vinyl (or other) cover of the heating devices (such as a thermophore) provides a surface that can be thoroughly cleaned each use. RMTs need to consider if the heating agent and any high-touch surfaces associated with its use can be properly sanitized between patients.  This includes not only coverings, like pillowcases and towels (e.g., some RMTs use multiple layers of towels around a heating device, and launder the towels after each use), but the thermal agent itself.  A thermal agent that cannot be properly sanitized must not be used.

FAQ POSTED ON JULY 13, 2020:

I want to travel outside of BC – carefully, of course, minimizing contacts with others – and so do my patients, but CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines say that patients must confirm they haven’t travelled outside of BC in the previous 14 days. Why is CMTBC setting a higher restriction than BC’s Restart Plan?

The province moved into Phase 3 of BC’s Restart Plan on June 24, 2020, allowing for travel within Canada as well as within BC.  The Restart Plan confirms that Phase 2 guidelines and extra safety precautions are still in place.  This also means that CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice remain unchanged and in effect.

While Phase 3 allows for smart, safe and respectful travel within BC, caution is still needed. On July 9, 2020, BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a news conference, “The whole plan… is making sure that we don’t ever have to go back to shutting everything down like we did in March…  We know so much now about being able to control … the spread [of COVID-19] in the community…”

As regulated health professionals and part of BC’s health care system, RMTs play an important role in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Part of this role includes meaningful patient screening. If your pre-screening and in-person screen processes are automated (e.g., limited to online / on-screen check-boxes), please consider if you are obtaining accurate information and if you are having an authentic discussion about risk of transmission.

Discussing travel outside of BC is one way that you keep the discussion relevant, even if you – and your patients – feel there is no longer a risk of transmission. Dr. Bonnie Henry continues to report new cases; on Thursday July 9th there were 20 new cases of COVID-19 in BC; on Friday, 25 new cases, the biggest increase since May.

CMTBC’s pre-screening guideline states that patients must confirm they have not travelled outside of BC in the previous 14 days. If they have travelled outside of BC, they need to tell you about it. This creates an opportunity for you to have an important conversation about the nature of their safety protocols at a time when patients are likely to have increased their level of contact with people outside their immediate “bubble”.

BC’s Centre for Disease Control provides detailed information on what to consider when travelling; for example:

  • Travel within BC, “Know before you go”. Some towns, communities and regions are eager to welcome BC visitors with safety measures in place while others might be hesitant to welcome outside visitors at this time. Stay home and do not travel if you or someone in your travel group has symptoms or does not feel well.
  • Travelling between provinces, British Columbians travelling to other provinces or territories should check the region’s public health information to find out about local travel restrictions and follow public health guidance. The BC Government website offers information on inter-provincial travel.

It is not required that you or your patient self-isolate after domestic travel. However, it is important to consider the added potential risk of viral transmission that travel creates.

Recently, both BC’s Provincial Health Officer and BC’s Health Minister have addressed the apparent risk of airplane travel as reported in this news storyBCCDC Public Exposures lists flights, cruises, places and events with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

If you or your patient have travelled, you must apply clinical reasoning and consider the risk of viral transmission. Do the risks of providing treatment outweigh the benefit of massage therapy? If so, postpone the treatment for 14 days to see if you or your patient become symptomatic of COVID-19, and/or contact public health at 8-1-1 for additional guidance.

FAQ POSTED ON JULY 7, 2020:

Am I required to add the COVID-19 pre-screening and in-person screening results to the patient’s health record? A potential patient completed my COVID-19 screening and won’t be coming in for treatment, and asks that the results be deleted.

Screening for COVID-19 is the highest-priority safety protocol in CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines because it ensures that only healthy people enter your practice environment. Both pre-screening (ideally, by phone one day in advance of an appointment) and in-person screening (immediately prior to treatment) are safety measures that minimize the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. This question asks if the screen results are also necessarily part of the patient health record, as per CMTBC’s Bylaws.

RMTs apply the COVID-19 screens in varied ways that include question/answer over the phone or having the patient complete BC’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment via an app downloadable on the patient’s smart phone. Not all COVID-19 screening results end up as an electronic or paper record.

For many RMTs who use electronic booking systems, the screening results are built into the RMT’s intake system, and in these cases the results become part of the file for that individual.

The College has been asked if a potential patient completes an RMT’s COVID-19 pre-screening and does not proceed with treatment, can their COVID-19 screening answers be destroyed? The answer to this question is not found within College Bylaws because the COVID-19 screen is not necessarily related to massage therapy. However, the screen results are personal information and handling of this information is addressed by the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).  RMTs are advised to contact the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC to request guidance about retention and destruction of personal information that does not become part of a patient health record with the RMT.

For patients who received massage therapy from an RMT prior to COVID-19, the pre-screening and in-person screening results are personal information, but they do not necessarily form part of the patient record that an RMT must retain for 16 years as per College Bylaws. In most instances the information provided in the COVID-19 screen does not directly relate to elements of the treatment plan for which a patient seeks massage therapy. It is possible in some cases that there may be overlap between screening results and the information required in a patient record; in such cases, the RMT should ensure that the clinical record contains any medical history provided by the patient that may be relevant to that patient’s treatment.

FAQs POSTED ON MAY 29, 2020:

My patient asked if she has to cancel her appointment, because the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool advised her to self-isolate. She has a mild headache and runny nose which she says is due to seasonal allergies. Do I have to cancel the appointment?

The short answer is “yes”, but there is room for the RMT to apply clinical reasoning and professional judgment in consultation with public health, 8-1-1.

CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice include a pre-screening requirement that assesses the health of patients who wish to book with RMTs, and of RMTs and their staff.

The pre-screening protocol includes use of BC’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool, which asks if you have “severe difficulty breathing, mild to moderate shortness of breath, chronic health conditions that you are having difficulty managing because of difficulty breathing”. More problematically for RMTs, the third question asks if you are experiencing “cold, flu or COVID-19-like symptoms, even mild ones?” [emphasis included in the assessment tool] Symptoms are listed, including “cough, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, headache, muscle aches” and more telling symptoms like fever, and loss of sense of smell. If a patient honestly answers “yes”, the response is “Please get assessed for a COVID-19 test, and self-isolate for at least 10 days.”

RMTs are accustomed – pre-COVID-19 – to treating patients with headaches, allergies, muscle aches, and underlying health conditions. Some of these symptoms and conditions are exacerbated by seasonal allergies, and in other circumstances, seasonal allergies alone can result in some of the symptoms listed by the COVID-19 assessment tool.

RMTs have asked the College, “do I have to turn away every patient who has mild cold-like symptoms?” While it may be difficult to accept, under present circumstances the answer is “yes” if you don’t have a previous therapeutic relationship with the patient, and don’t know their seasonal patterns of wellness and discomforts.  If you are familiar with the patient’s seasonal fluctuations and know about their allergies, and can confirm that their symptoms are limited to the patient’s most common allergy-symptoms, you may choose to accept the appointment under enhanced protocols (e.g., require mask use even if you don’t regularly do so).

Advise the patient to call 8-1-1 to explain their results and their discussion with you, and have the patient ask for advice from the provincial health authority.

We appreciate that in many cases, perhaps even most, the patient may have nothing more than a seasonal allergy. But this cannot be assumed to be true in every case, and the assessment tool asks about “symptoms”, not about patient or RMT assumptions about the most probable underlying reason for those symptoms. While it may be disappointing for the patient to have to wait a bit longer to receive treatment, the priority has to be safety, including the safety of the RMT’s other patients. Open and honest communication with the symptomatic patient about the reasons for deferring treatment, and stressing the need to avoid risk and to follow public health guidance, may be helpful.

My clinic has developed a version of BC’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool which is included in an email sent to patients as part of the pre-screening. This is good enough, right?

The short answer is, it depends.

If you follow-up the pre-screening email with a phone call to discuss the patient’s answers to the COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool, you may learn that the patient has a headache which is why he booked a massage therapy appointment. Further, you may know the patient’s pattern of headaches, and you may also know underlying conditions that exacerbate the headache presentation at this time (e.g., increased desk work with online meetings as a result of isolation measures). A headache is a positive sign in the online tool, which results in the instruction, “Please get assessed for a COVID-19 test, and self-isolate for at least 10 days.”

The RMT’s professional judgment may help put the patient’s concerns at ease, by advising the patient to call 8-1-1 and discuss their result. The 8-1-1 advisor may request that the patient come in for COVID-19 testing, or agree that the massage therapy can go ahead. Either way, the 8-1-1 consultation determines the next step.

Do I have to get written consent to treat every time my subsequent patient receives massage therapy in the new COVID-19 environment, or just the first time?

Written consent must be renewed in your presence when your patient first returns to massage therapy in the COVID-19 environment. This is consistent with CMTBC’s Consent Standard of Practice which states in Section 10 : “An RMT renews consent when the treatment approach changes for any reason, and revises the treatment plan or creates a new one.”

The treatment approach has changed to include risk mitigation measures for transmission of COVID-19. Take the opportunity to invite your patient to ask questions and engage with your new protocols for everyone’s safety.

For subsequent treatments, ongoing consent is verbal (and charted by you), as before, until such time as there is a significant change in your treatment approach or treatment plan.

Please make sure you differentiate between consent and a waiver. CMTBC’s FAQs posted on May 20, 2020 address this issue.

I would like to provide massage therapy to front-line health care workers who have been in COVID-19 wards, but I’m not sure what to do. What are the requirements?

The May 29, 2020 update to CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice address this question, in the ‘REQUIRED’ section, ‘PRE-SCREENING, PRIOR TO ARRIVAL’. RMTs must apply the assessment tool provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control, Exposures and return to work for health care workers, in consultation with the health care worker. Spend time on the BCCDC webpage and read the fine print of the assessment tool (the diagram with green, yellow, red risk indicators), and ask your patients questions to help you determine the risk level.

CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines state that if the health care worker falls into the “No Risk” category in the BCCDC assessment tool, treatment can be provided. If the health care worker falls into the “Low Risk” category, treatment can be provided if the patient wears a surgical or medical mask which they will have access to because they use PPE in their work environment.

Why does CMTBC refer to WorkSafeBC in the interim guidelines?

WorkSafeBC oversees practice environments with employees covered by WorkSafeBC. BC’s Restart Plan relies on collaboration between all provincial government ministries, WorkSafeBC, BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

As the regulatory body for RMTs, it is important that CMTBC draws your attention in the interim guidelines to WorkSafeBC requirements for those RMTs whose practices must meet WorkSafeBC requirements. Further, WorkSafeBC requirements are best practices during COVID-19 measures, and your patients will be familiar with these practices in other activities of daily living, including grocery shopping.

My patient whom I treated a few days ago called to say they are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 (or, are awaiting a COVID-19 test, or, have tested positive for COVID-19). Is it just me who needs to stop treating patients, or does the entire clinic need to close?

In this scenario, the patient receiving treatment at the clinic may have spread the virus to any person with whom they came into contact at the clinic.

Therefore, you should cancel services, close the clinic, and contact public health at 8-1-1 for guidance and direction on how to proceed.

You and your colleagues may be directed by 8-1-1 to contact others with whom you have been in contact, including patients. BC’s Centre for Disease Control provides information about contact tracing on their website.

FAQs POSTED ON MAY 20, 2020:

Did Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer say that we should all wear masks?

On May 20, 2020, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, issued a general recommendation that non-medical masks or face coverings should be worn if physical distancing cannot be maintained. However, this was a recommendation, not an order; and Dr. Tam’s recommendation was not intended to override the public health guidance issued by authorities in the respective provinces. As outlined by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s updated information on non-medical masks and face coverings, the recommendation applies “particularly in crowded public settings, such as stores, shopping areas, [and] public transportation”.

On the same day, BC’s Minister of Health Adrian Dix, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, released a joint statement that said the following about masks:

“Today, the federal government spoke to the use of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings in public settings. When it is difficult to keep a safe physical distance for an extended period of time – for example, when you are on transit – this is a good way for you to protect those around you.

“We have to remember that face coverings keep our droplets in and don’t prevent transmission from others. The best ways for us to stay safe is to wash our hands, maintain a safe physical distance from others and keep our ‘rules’ for social interactions top of mind.”

BC’s government and public health authorities have not mandated the use of masks.

To be clear, CMTBC is not discouraging mask use by RMTs and/or their patients. It remains a choice to be made by each, or to be made jointly by both the RMT and the patient following discussion, and in the context of all of the other steps the RMT has put in place to mitigate risk in the treatment environment. RMTs are free to use their professional judgment about wearing a mask while providing treatment, or recommending mask use to a patient. Remember, however, that all public health guidance, including today’s, has stressed that other steps – including distancing (where possible), hand hygiene, cleaning, and (for RMTs) careful screening – remain more important than mask use in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

For the pre-screening requirement to confirm the patient’s health (and my own), can I send an email the day before the appointment, instead of making personal phone contact? Or can our clinic receptionist make the phone contact before a patient comes to the clinic for an appointment?

It’s not a yes or no answer, and this is why: pre-screening is critical to safe delivery of massage therapy in this time of COVID-19; it is not a rubber stamp. Pre-screening allows you to welcome patients whom you believe to be healthy into your treatment setting, and lets you reassure your patients that your health is good and that your risk to them is minimal. A meaningful, honest discussion about your own health and that of your patient is part of the screening process.

We understand some RMTs are completing the pre-screen by email or having a receptionist complete these duties. While this is not ideal, it is acceptable provided that the RMT oversees the content and training of a receptionist in the pre-screen process, and has an honest, comprehensive discussion with the patient in person on their arrival. While it may not always be possible to provide a private space to have a confidential check-in with a patient, the RMT should confirm the patient’s good health on arrival and prior to entering the treatment room where physical distancing is not possible.

The importance of the pre-screening process underscores that it is your responsibility to ensure the patient fully understands they are not returning to “normal”, or even “new normal”. They are coming for massage therapy in an environment where you have done everything you can to minimize the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Do I have to pre-screen before every treatment, once a patient has returned to my practice and is receiving treatment on a weekly basis?

Yes. You cannot control your patient’s behavior between appointments – where they have been, whom they have seen, nor their possible risks of infection – and you are wise to maintain the pre-screen protocol.

Remember that the pre-screen is a two-way discussion – the patient deserves to know your movements that fall outside of recommendations by public health authorities, in the same way that you are entitled to know the patient’s movements that fall outside of recommendations by public health authorities.

I live and work near the BC/Alberta border – many of my patients travel back and forth all the time. The required BC COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment Tool screens for travel outside of Canada, but CMTBC’s Guidelines say in the pre-screening section that patients must confirm they have not travelled outside of BC in the previous 14 days. Could you clarify what I’m supposed to do?

Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Officer, continually asks British Columbians to stay close to home, and engage only in essential travel.

BC Centre for Disease Control’s webpage on travel provides the following guidance:

Outside of Canada:

“Unless you are exempt, all travellers arriving in B.C. from outside of Canada are required by law to self-isolate for 14 days and complete a self-isolation plan … More information is available on the BC Government website for returning travellers.”

Outside of BC:

“British Columbians are encouraged to stay in their own communities and avoid non-essential travel at this time. As the province moves into phase 2 and phase 3 of B.C.’s Restart Plan, more guidance on travel within the province will be provided. This includes trips to smaller communities, cabins and campgrounds.”

There is an element of discretion for RMTs to consider how well they know the patient, when the question about travel about BC is asked. CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines state, “Patients must confirm they have not travelled outside British Columbia in the previous 14 days”. This gives you the opportunity to clarify where the patient has been.

If the patient has visited an area where the incidence of COVID-19 is high, you can factor that into your risk assessment. In the days from May 15 to May 19, Dr. Bonnie Henry reminded British Columbians that although many BC residents work in industrial camps in northern Alberta and return home to BC on their breaks, there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in one of those work camps.

The 14 day period is specified in CMTBC’s guidelines because that is generally the timeframe when symptoms present, post-infection.

If you know your patients and the incidence of COVID-19 in the community they visit in Alberta is low or non-existent, you can modify this in your pre-screen. It’s included as a requirement to draw attention to the increased risk of travel, and to provide RMTs an opportunity to keep themselves and their patients well informed about risk factors.

How about the informed consent part – do I have to renew that each time a patient returns, after their initial return to my practice?

No. Signed informed consent must be obtained the first time a subsequent patient returns to your practice under COVID-19 measures. When that patient rebooks for continuing treatment, you must comply with the Consent Standard of Practice by obtaining verbal consent if anything has changed. If nothing has changed, you are required to remind the patient to ask questions about treatment at any time, or to end the treatment if at any time the patient feels uncomfortable (section 9 of the consent standard).

Please clarify the consent requirement – there are a lot of new consents required, is that right?

Fundamentally, the consent process, and the reasons for it, have not changed.

If you previously had an informed consent process in your practice that conformed with requirements set by CMTBC’s Consent Standard of Practice, it probably looked something like this:

  • On initial intake, you would describe your practice framework to a new patient, explaining that you will take a clinical history (question/answer about the patient’s medical history) initially and ask from time to time if anything has changed.
  • You would explain that at every session, prior to providing massage therapy, you will conduct an assessment to clearly focus on the patient’s presenting complaint, or to monitor improvement over time.
  • Further, you would explain that following treatment, you might re-assess, and you would provide home care – activities that the patient will do at home to improve their condition, including stretches, strengthening exercises, and possible adaptations to daily activities.
  • You would also describe potential benefits and risks of receiving massage therapy, and point to alternatives for care.
  • You would then request signed consent, demonstrating that the patient understood your framework for clinical care, understood the benefits and potential risks, and consented to your approach.

Sections 9 and 10 of the Consent Standard of Practice state that “before the delivery of a subsequent treatment, an RMT renews consent if appropriate” and that “[an] RMT renews consent when the treatment approach changes for any reason” [emphasis added].

What is new as a result of COVID-19 is that the context of care for every RMT and for every patient has changed, which means that RMTs are now required to renew written consent with each patient returning for massage therapy. Specifically, RMTs must include the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and the steps taken by the RMT to reduce the risk.

RMTs are not required to create a new form – they are required to obtain informed consent in the new context of care, including the risk of transmission of COVID-19 virus, and the patient must sign the consent.

But I’ve seen a form that is called COVID-19 Patient Intake Consent, with checkboxes my patient has to check. Isn’t that the consent form?

No. A document of this nature is not a consent document; it is a waiver that may have been circulated by your professional association, or by your professional liability insurer. A waiver is a legal document that is intended to release the RMT from liability if the patient contracts COVID-19 while in the clinic or while receiving treatment from the RMT. Whether a waiver will actually have that effect is a complex issue that will depend on the facts of the individual case.

RMTs should do their due diligence, which means following CMTBC’s guidelines for delivery of care, as advised by Dr. Bonnie Henry in her letter to BC’s regulated health professionals dated May 15, 2020 (PDF). Key messages in Dr. Henry’s letter include:

“Your respective regulatory colleges have developed a set of guiding principles to help you resume in-person care in … [community] settings.

“… I encourage you to look to your health authorities, regulatory college, and WorkSafe BC to ensure that you have strong infection prevention and control protocols and occupational health and safety practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. This includes risk-based and symptom assessments prior to entering the workplace and appropriate use of personal protective equipment.”

These principles, clearly articulated by Dr. Bonnie Henry, are the pillars of CMTBC’s Interim Guidelines for Return to Practice, on which RMTs are basing their own return-to-practice protocols for their patients.

It is important to be clear on the difference between informed consent to treatment and a waiver of liability. These are different documents and concepts, which exist for different purposes.

FAQs POSTED ON MAY 15, 2020:

What does “required” mean? Some of the requirements don’t make sense in my practice environment, and some are impossible (e.g. cleaning the building elevator).

There are two key pillars underlying low risk return to practice. One is the need for registrants to follow the guidelines of their regulatory college, as emphasized by BC’s Provincial Health Officer.  The other is the individual judgment of health professionals, and in Dr. Henry’s words, their accountability “to ensure the health and safety of their patients and clients, colleagues, and support staff in every healthcare setting.”

RMTs practice in a wide variety of settings, and it is always possible that something that may be critically important in one setting is inapplicable in another. RMTs are expected to think critically, apply their own professional judgment, and be guided by their underlying responsibility to create an environment conducive to health and safety.

In that sense, RMTs are required to consider carefully every element of what is in the “Required” section of the guidelines, and incorporate each element in their own plan unless that element is not applicable to the RMT’s treatment environment.

Why are masks not required?

The use of masks has been a complex issue since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical-grade masks (N95, P100, plexi shields) have been in short supply and should be going to frontline health care workers.  Cloth or surgical masks provide little or no protection to the wearer, but may protect those around the wearer from the wearer’s respiratory droplets.

Masks are only one part of the guidelines, and RMTs are not discouraged from using them and/or offering them to patients if this is requested and enhances a patient’s feeling of safety. On the other hand, mask use can be problematic, and masks themselves can be a vector for viral transmission if not properly handled, or if re-used without proper sterilization. The guidelines instead emphasize screening, self-assessment, hand hygiene, distancing (expect for actual treatment), and honest communication. RMTs should not be treating anyone who is symptomatic.  Yes, there is a risk of asymptomatic transmission, but that risk is very low if all other measures are followed carefully.  If that were not the case, the Provincial Health Officer would not have allowed resumption of care.

On page 4 of COVID-19: Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Community-Based Allied Health Care Providers in Clinic Settings (PDF), issued May 15, 2020 by BC Centre for Disease Control, BCCDC states: “Personal Protective Equipment is the last and least effective of the infection prevention and exposure control measures and should only be considered after exploring all other measures. PPE is not effective as a stand-alone preventive measure. PPE must be suited to the task and must be worn and disposed of properly.”

Can I resume practice on (or after) May 19, 2020?

Yes, as long as you have a plan that addresses CMTBC’s interim guidelines, have shared it with your patients, and are prepared to practice in accordance with the guidelines.  However, if you need more time to prepare, or do not yet feel ready to return to practice, that is fine – there is no requirement to return until you are ready.

CMTBC encourages a gradual return to practice, to provide time to ensure that your safety protocol is being followed consistently.

For RMTs at spas, are we opening in Phase 3 or in Phase 2?

Spas and similar environments – i.e. in which RMTs share space with unregulated practitioners and service providers – were originally part of Phase 3, but are now included in Phase 2.  RMTs practicing in such environments must still have a plan that is consistent with CMTBC’s interim guidelines. In addition to communication with patients, the RMT will communicate the return to practice plan to those with whom the RMT shares space, and possibly also with the managers or owners of the space.  Massage therapy treatment provided in any treatment environment must be done in accordance with CMTBC’s interim guidelines.

I rent my treatment room to other practitioners when I don’t use it; may I continue to do this?

You may, but it is your responsibility to ensure that all practitioners who use your space are aware of and follow your safety protocol.  As BC’s Provincial Health Officer said in her letter dated May 15, 2020 (PDF), health professionals are “accountable to ensure the health and safety of their patients and clients, colleagues, and support staff in every healthcare setting”.

How do patients sign informed consent in a no-touch / low-touch environment?

As they do now. If patients sign on a tablet, provide them with a sterilized tablet and wipe it again after they have signed; if on a paper form, do the same with the pen that is handed to the patient.

Why is the RMT opening and closing doors, instead of the patient?

Before COVID-19, RMTs’ choices about opening/closing doors varied considerably. Much of the variation depends on the practice setting, e.g., are there many people (patients and practitioners) in a multi-disciplinary setting?, or is it a home-based (or sole proprietor in a commercial location) setting?, is it a mobile practice?, or other.  The basic idea is that the RMT knows that he/she is washing and cleaning regularly within the treatment setting; the patient is coming in from outside and is more likely to be a transmission vector.  However, the RMT can adapt this principle as required for it to make sense in the treatment environment.

The interim guidelines need to be interpreted by CMTBC’s 5,400+ registrants in a wide variety of practice environments. The intention of door-opening/closing by the RMT is to minimize hard-surface touch-points, and to keep it within the health professional’s control to maintain a safe environment for the RMT as well as the patient.

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