Health care is enjoying an abundance of positive attention as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. My question, my challenge, is how can we sustain this love-fest between the public and the health care profession even after we obtain a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19?
Let’s be perfectly honest: six months ago, the American health care system was considered, even by physicians, as broken and in dire need of repair.
Here are a few ideas that I identified that might help us harness this new attitude towards the health care profession:
1. Say thank you to the media for all of the recognition and favorable coverage of health care during this crisis.
2. Gather testimonials from the many patients and others who are so appreciative of the effort that health care workers have demonstrated.
3. Share examples of businesses and industries that have improved the conditions of the first responders. Examples include Airbnb, which has opened up numerous venues for doctors, nurses, and health care workers so that they can sleep near the hospitals and not have to travel great distances to and from the hospitals. Another example is Uber and Lyft both rideshare companies have offered free transportation to first responders to and from their homes to the hospitals.
4. Promote the efforts of the global task force of the world’s doctors, researchers, virologists, biochemists, computer scientists, those who are creating public policy, CDC, FDA, pharma, industry that is increasing production of ventilators and many more. These diverse groups and industries from all over the world are putting their egos aside and are combining their efforts to create a vaccine and identify effective treatments for COVID-19.
5. Let the public know that doctors are shifting from face-to-face interactions with patients to telemedicine and demonstrating that good medicine can be practiced without the requirement of touching the patient. Telemedicine has reached a critical mass where patients are now comfortable speaking and viewing their doctor using synchronous communication. It is also of interest that CMS has made it possible for doctors to be compensated for virtual visits.
6. Discuss with patients and the media how the health care profession has used technology to improve the care we are offering our patients. Examples are apps to record patient metrics that can be evaluated by physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, etc. Participants can share data with their doctors regarding their heart rate, sleep levels, physical activity levels, as well as respiratory symptoms, medications, electronic health record data, and results from the flu, strep, or COVID-19 test.
7. How some doctors are shifting to concierge medicine so that doctors can devote more time to patients and be readily accessible to patients on 24/7 basis.
8. How COVID-19 has focused our attention on population health. An example is calling to the attention of our profession the disparity between certain groups of patients, i.e., African-American patients who are at increased risk for COVID-19 and the complications of COVID-19. I am certain that this disparity is real and that it is a problem that deserves our immediate attention.
9. Large numbers of middle-age and older doctors/nurses coming out of retirement to help with the physician\nurse shortage in hospitals and clinics that are in need of additional physicians and nurses.
10. Regulations have been waived or relaxed, making it easier to credential physician\nurses wishing to practice in other states. In the past, this process has been a painful, arduous, and lengthy process. Now it is easy and seamless to obtain legal permissions to return to practice without the requirement of taking additional examinations.
11. If there is one message that we can learn from this crisis is the importance of being on time for our patients. Those of us who are conducting virtual visits understand the importance of being on time for those telemedicine calls. If a doctor is delayed 30-45 minutes, without letting the patient know of the delay, the patient will likely never participate in a virtual visit again and will go elsewhere for their care. We can gain the respect of our patients if we give them respect for their time.
The good news is that the health care profession remains an attractive option for young men and women. As evidence that the health care profession is alive and well, there have been a record number of applicants to medical schools throughout the nation. For example, there are over 10,000 applications for 150 positions at Tulane Medical School.
Bottom line: We have an opportunity to continue with the adoration of the U.S. health care profession. Perhaps this pandemic makes us able to rethink the very way we practice medicine. Let us not lose this unique opportunity to see that the coronavirus has given us the potential to truly make lemonade from the lemons.
Neil Baum is a urologist and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practices: Ethically, Effectively, Economically. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Neil Baum, MD, or on Facebook and Twitter.
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