Op-Ed: Alabama Medical Practices Hit Hard by COVID-19, Survey Finds

Op-Ed: Alabama Medical Practices Hit Hard by COVID-19, Survey Finds

By: John S. Meigs, Jr., MD, President, Medical Association of the State of Alabama

In a span of just a few months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we function as a society and has fundamentally altered our healthcare delivery system. It has exacerbated weaknesses in the infrastructure of health care and exposed limitations in current policies at a time when costs are rising and access to care is dwindling.

In an effort to understand these changes and their effects, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama released a survey summary detailing the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on medical practices and care delivery.  The survey identified several key findings: 

  • Public Health Concerns: Survey data shows that patient volume is down considerably and there are concerns that Alabamians are not going to their physician for routine care, including child vaccinations, which will have long term public health consequences.
  • Financial Impact: More than 70% of respondents said COVID-19 has had a severe impact on practice finances, causing layoffs and furloughs and limiting access to care
  • Patient Volume: Nearly 60% said patient volume reductions cut revenues by at least 50%, underscoring the extent to which patients are delaying or skipping necessary care
  • Telemedicine Increase: More than 71% said they’re likely to continue providing telemedicine so long as insurers continue covering the services for patients 
  • Liability Concerns: More than 71% are concerned about the potential liability from lack of PPE and patients canceling or delaying procedures and other medical care 

In addition, a similar study found that Alabama is ranked sixth in the country in the number of patients that are delaying care. While COVID-19 may change how you receive care, it’s still important to look after yourself by getting the time-sensitive medical care you need to stay healthy.

In light of the findings of the survey, the Medical Association recommends several public policy proposals to combat COVID-19’s effects on physician practices and care delivery:

  • Allocate state stimulus funds to reimburse practices for COVID-19 related expenses
  • Expansion of testing, PPE, and cleaning supply availability
  • Continued coverage of telemedicine by insurers at existing rates
  • Enactment of “safe harbor” legislation to provide liability protections to health care providers

This pandemic has made telehealth more important than ever, enabling access to care to patients whose needs can be met remotely. Telemedicine has saved lives, helped reduce the spread of the virus, and enabled physicians to care for patients in a time when they might have otherwise been unable to. However, it is not a “silver bullet” and should not be viewed as a total replacement for in-person care.

Whether in a hospital, surgery center, or in a clinic, COVID-19 has drastically changed the care we as physicians provide for our patients. We cannot allow this virus to decimate our already strained healthcare system. Supporting those who care for us is needed now more than ever.

The entirety of the survey summary is available here or at https://masa.informz.net/masa/data/images/2020-Survey-Graphic_Summary-FINAL.pdf.