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American Medical Association Releases Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians

AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD unveils a strategic roadmap to renew the nation’s commitment to its frontline doctors 

On June 10th, American Medical Association (AMA) President 2021-2022 Gerald E. Harmon, MD delivered a keynote speech to the AMA House of Delegates to unveil a new strategic roadmap titled “Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians”

Touching on many salient themes at the epicenter of modern medical practice, Harmon’s speech reached a dramatic point early on when he began to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its lasting impact on America’s frontline doctors: 

“As Coronavirus continues its relentless drive to infect every human being on the planet, it appears to be at the same time less threatening to those who have been vaccinated and boosted. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID—thankfully—remain low. Still, as new Omicron sub-variants crop up and create surges, it’s impossible to say where we will be later this summer and into the fall.

In several prior speaking opportunities, I compared the COVID-19 pandemic to war. Both can be a matter of life and death; both are extremely costly in human and economic terms; and the price of fighting both can often lead to physical, emotional, and financial exhaustion. This has certainly been the case for doctors and other health care workers who have borne an outsized burden caring for the sick over the last couple of years . . . especially those on the front lines in hospitals and ambulatory settings. 

It’s physicians our nation turns to—for answers, for guidance, for help. You’ve taken care of our nation, at a great personal sacrifice, and it’s time our nation renews its commitment to you.” Watch Dr. Harmon’s complete keynote address to the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates here

The Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians focuses on six key goals to rebuild healthcare and support better outcomes for America’s frontline doctors: 

  • Supporting telehealth to maintain coverage and payment
  • Reforming Medicare payment to promote thriving physician practices and innovation
  • Stopping scope creep that threatens patient safety
  • Fixing prior authorization to reduce the burden on practices and minimize care delays for patients
  • Reducing physician burnout and addressing the stigma around mental health
  • Finding new doctors and ensuring top professionals consider pursuing careers in healthcare. 

Supporting Telehealth

The implementation and adoption of telehealth services absolutely boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. All across the country, healthcare professionals and patient customers are generating positive outcomes from their use of emerging telehealth workflows, platforms, and organizational processes. 

While the application of telehealth service provisioning may not match the needs of patients in need of suturing for a wound or the setting of a broken bone following an acute accident, these new services are “hugely beneficial” when it comes to offering more cost-effective chronic disease management, care coordination, and psychiatry services to name but a few examples said, Harmon. 

At this time, it has become clear to the AMA that our nation needs to update its legal frameworks, compliance obligations, and regulations for governing the growth of telehealth services after the critical COVID-19 public health emergency has expired. 

Reforming Medicare Payments 

Since 2001, physician payments have fallen by more than 20% when adjusted for inflation, said Harmon. The AMA worked with Congress to avoid a 10% loss in Medicare payments last January but a more permanent solution is needed to reform Medicare’s payment contributions to America’s frontline healthcare practitioners. 

The AMA believes that it is time for meaningful legislative efforts to reform medicare to ensure medical professionals receive adequate compensation for their efforts to support the health and wellness of our communities. 

Stopping Scope Creep 

Teamwork is an essential and necessary quotient of delivering reliable and affordable medical services, said Harmon. While clinical teams gain value from the support of nurses, physician assistants, and administrative staff, the AMA believes it is essential that doctors maintain leading roles in the care teams they support. 

Dr. Harmon likened the situation to the airline industry where ground crews, and in-flight attendants are all critical aspects of service delivery, “But no one suggests they fly the planes or that we use them to fill the expected shortage of airline pilots,” he said. Medical professionals need to continue to play central roles in directing service delivery across America’s community health networks. 

Fixing Prior Authorizations 

During his presentation, Harmon referenced an AMA research survey which found that 93% of physicians found noticeable challenges dealing with prior authorization for medications, tests, and procedures which resulted in measurable care delays for patients. The survey found that 4 out of 5 doctors believe prior authorization processes led patients to abandon treatment options that would have supported better medical outcomes. 

Though insurance providers agreed to work on addressing this issue more than 4 years ago, there is still tremendous work to be done. The AMA developed a guideline called the “Consensus Statement on Improving the Prior Authorization Process,” and Harmon believes “its time to hold them accountable for what they already agreed to.” 

Reducing Physician Burnout

Dr. Harmon offered praise of the Federal Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Act named for a medical professional who took her own life as stress from the pandemic mounted. Breen had been concerned speaking out to her management teams out of gear that the stigma of reaching out for help would damage her career and remove her from her professional responsibilities. 

The AMA is working to address mental health within the medical profession and supports making meaningful reforms to outdated language on applications for medical licensure, employment, and credentials to create a more supportive professional environment to reduce burnout. 

Finding New Doctors

The goal of the recovery plan is to ensure that more talented young people decide to take the responsibility of supporting our community as medical practitioners. Harmon cited a looming physician shortage which has been greatly exacerbated by the fallout of the pandemic.

He called for the following efforts to support the development of new doctors in underrepresented communities: 

  • Working to create frameworks for reducing the expense and debt accrued by medical training 
  • Expanding the number of residency training slots across community health networks
  • Creating new schools and programs in historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities

“America’s doctors are a precious, and irreplaceable, resource. Physician shortages, already projected to be severe before COVID, have almost become a public health emergency. If we aren’t successful with this Recovery Plan, it’ll be even more challenging to bring talented young people into medicine and fill that expected shortage,” Dr. Harmon said in prepared remarks.

“Our Recovery Plan is ambitious. But it is doable. And the AMA is here to be our unified voice to lawmakers and those in positions of power. The Recovery Plan is how we move forward. By prioritizing and meeting the needs of physicians, we also improve patient care. We’re all better off when doctors can focus on medicine.”

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