During this unprecedented time, how do you lead the nation’s healthcare providers?
National Doctors Day [which occurred in the midst of the pandemic] was an opportune
time to thank physicians and other health care professionals who are on the front
lines. I think it’s critical that we all recognize the heroic efforts of all our
physicians. And on behalf of the AMA, I thank them.
A second critical opportunity
is to listen. From emails, texts and social media posts, we have been listening
to the concerns, the worries and the needs of the physicians across this country.
What we do at the AMA is give those concerns voice and translate those concerns
into action. That’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of this pandemic.
What are you hearing from physicians, and what’s being done in response?
The most critical need right now is for personal protective equipment – masks, gowns,
face shields. We’ve been hearing since the beginning that physicians don’t have
the equipment they need. They’re wearing the equipment for multiple patients and
multiple days and are attempting to sterilize the equipment. Everyone is making
do with what we have, but in usual times, these actions would not meet the accepted
policy for infection control.
The AMA has called on the president to enact the DPA – Defense Production Act.
We will need to continue to amplify the need to make sure we have enough ventilators.
This is about preparedness. As a former public health official, I know that a key
part of the work of public health is to be prepared for public health emergencies
and to prepare for the worst. Certainly, we can always hope for the best, but we
absolutely have to prepare for the worst.
To make sure that equipment gets to those who need it, we’ve also called on the
President to develop a national tracking system. We are going to do our best in
combatting this pandemic with data and facts. Data regarding the number hospitalized,
and unfortunately, the data around those who ultimately pass away. We also would
be well served with data regarding equipment. How many ventilators do we have?
What is the specific need in each region, state or even down to the practice or
hospital level? We’ve called on the administration to develop a national tracking
system – not just on the incidents of positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths
– but also a database of supplies and equipment. We could then know who has what,
who needs what and what areas have priority need. The apex, or the peak, of infections
and hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths are going to be different in different
areas of the country. A federally coordinated effort would serve us well.
What strengths or positives have you seen in the overall response?
As we focus on the COVID-19 disease, physicians have been reducing their hours and
days in their offices. However, other health care needs still need to be met. Center
for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma has been very receptive
regarding telemedicine and telehealth. CMS has relaxed a lot of regulations around
that. And to make sure there is equitable payment around that, we need all payers
to be receptive to enhancing the use of telehealth – thereby increasing patient
access to care, and reducing the risk of our workforce becoming infected or ill.
We’re already balancing on a workforce shortage predating COVID-19, so anything
we can do to mitigate or reduce the chance of both physicians and patients becoming
infected is a good thing.
Physicians are seeing patients via telehealth and even telephone. In rural areas
–or for our seniors who don’t have a data plan on their phone or access to the
internet – telephone visits are critical and are now allowed by CMS. That’s definitely
something that’s been positive. Every need can’t be met using telemedicine, but
physicians across the country are using telemedicine, and we are able to stay in
touch with our patients in that way.
This outbreak has given everyone an opportunity to play their part, even if that
means staying home, in preventing the spread. Can you talk to me about how it’s
everyone’s responsibility to help create a healthy nation?
If there’s only one takeaway from this article, let it be this: Individual actions
make for collective impact. I want everyone to know they can do their part to prevent
the spread of COVID-19 by staying home, practicing physical distancing. Certainly,
go out for any urgent health needs, getting groceries or medications. But everyone
can do their part to prevent spread of COVID-19 and stay home. We have a message
from physicians we want to get out to the public that says, “If you stay home,
you keep us all well.” It’s not just about keeping yourself well, which is important;
it’s about keeping us all well. We do want everyone to follow the guidelines of
their local officials, but if everyone stays home, we will go a long way in reducing
the spread of COVID-19. The evidence supports that.
On a personal note, what has this experience been like for you as president of
Being the president of the AMA is a wonderful privilege, but it’s also an awesome
responsibility. You have a platform to be the voice of physicians in making sure
our country is a healthier country. I am even more acutely aware of the responsibility
of this platform in this particular moment in time. The responsibility of demonstrating
leadership, the responsibility of truth-telling, the responsibility of making sure
we are having discussions based on science and evidence – I take all of those responsibilities
seriously and make sure I live up to those responsibilities.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Stay home! Practice kindness. Check on one during this pandemic. Let’s maintain our
connections – we can do that through technology. Stay home, practice self-care,
maintain physical distancing – staying six feet apart, no large gatherings.
Wash your hands and let’s stay socially connected.