The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the practice of medicine and the physician-patient relationship. In the past 12 months, millions of patients have chosen to see their doctor virtually or – as statistics show – many are skipping needed care altogether.
Dr. Susan Bailey, President of the American Medical Association, has seen firsthand how the consequences of the virus have affected her patients in Texas and millions of others across the nation.
During the latest episode of the Hospitals in Focus Podcast Dr. Bailey noted, “There’s a lot of concern about many chronic diseases advancing in severity unnecessarily because patients haven’t gotten care they needed. Continuing to postpone care will inevitably lead to a surge in hospitalizations for chronic conditions, pent-up demand for screening exams, and more so-called routine surgical procedures and unfortunately put lives unnecessarily at risk even after the pandemic ends. And of course, will further tax our health system that’s already been stretched impossibly thin, but with our pandemic response,”
Dr. Bailey, who is a practicing allergist and immunologist, joined FAH President and CEO Chip Kahn to discuss how treating patients has changed during the pandemic. She described the struggle to acquire adequate personal protective equipment, the issues with reconfiguring offices to keep patients safe from the virus, and the financial strain of a massive decline in-patient visits that are putting many independent practices in jeopardy.
“Most of the physicians I know are still not seeing the number of patients that they were before the pandemic despite vaccinations, despite PPE…The fact of the matter is there are still a lot of people that don’t feel comfortable going out to the doctor yet,” said Dr. Bailey.
She told Chip that this is having a real-world effect on the financial health independent practices.
“Physicians saw their revenue drop by an average of 32% according to a survey the AMA did last summer. In fact, one in five physicians saw their revenue collapsed by 50% or more, and more than eight in 10 physicians say their revenue hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels.”
This could ultimately cause an access crisis as some practices are forced to close. The good news — help from Congress has helped keep some doctor’s offices afloat.
“The AMA’s own survey done last summer indicated that the majority of physicians who got Provider Relief Funding said it really made a difference for their practices,” said Bailey.
She added that recent efforts by the Senate and House to continue a moratorium of the 2% Medicare Sequester are another vital lifeline.
“With all the hardships that we’ve been discussing, adding a 2% hit on top of that was just not going to be sustainable. Physicians have suffered so much. We were heroes a year ago and now they’re threatening to cut our pay. There really is a tremendous need in the physician community. So, there’s always room to do more, but we think that Congress is beginning to understand the pressure that physicians and our entire healthcare system and workforce have been under.”
Dr. Bailey pointed out that another 4% cut to Medicare provider payments looms next year and that hospitals and physicians will need lawmakers to act again.
But she added that no matter the financial constraints or threats from COVID-19 and future health emergencies, caregivers will remain on the frontlines fighting to save lives and provide patients needed treatment.