With the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacting our communities, the U.S. healthcare delivery system is in flux. As local, state and national stakeholders continue to seek informed guidance in developing policies impacting care delivery, it is critical to hear the voices of those on the front lines of this pandemic.
Physicians, who often lead front-line care teams, offer a unique perspective that is of critical value to those outside of healthcare. Elevating the physician voice within a healthcare system is more than an opportunity, it is also a strategic means to influence larger policy discussions around patient care delivery in a rapidly evolving healthcare environment.
Why? Because politicians and policymakers are listening.
Policymakers are asking questions, seeking answers, and engaging directly with healthcare staff. Faced with issues including hospital pandemic response, workers’ compensation, employee benefits, provider relief funding, and emerging care modalities like telehealth, all in the context of the pandemic and its anticipated aftermath, elected officials and regulators are listening with a new attentiveness to the physicians who are caring for their communities.
Beginning in early March, I have participated in dozens of Zoom calls with both state and federal legislators. I am often asked, “Tell me what is happening on the ground,” followed inevitably by the question, always posed in an urgent voice, “What can I do?”
These conversations have evolved into discussions about legislation that would affect local healthcare operations, finance and workforce issues, to name only a few.
Physician advocacy has already proven effective. As a California state senator shared, a gubernatorial executive order was signed because of local county physician advocacy. When invited to sit at the table, physicians not only have the opportunity to share their clinical expertise and experience, but also have the ability to use their community standing to promote positive change.
Leveraging the physician voice also opens the door to joining larger collaborative efforts and partnerships at the state or national level. For example, in collaboration with the California Medical Association, the Los Angeles County Medical Association was able to distribute $12 million worth of personal protective equipment to over 3,000 medical practices throughout L.A. County, as part of a larger $60 million initiative driven by the California Medical Association, which negotiated directly with state entities.
Physician leaders active in national medical trade associations, including myself, have also had direct conversations with federal policymakers, such as with CMS leaders on topics ranging from telehealth to direct contracting. We have spoken directly with ranking members of Congress, who view the physician community as an important resource when analyzing federal healthcare policy. And as the public health emergency continues, policymakers will continue to discuss key issues such as health insurance coverage, provider immunity, healthcare staff safety and PPE availability.
Physician leaders at healthcare systems also have an opportunity to use their influence to support community efforts. Medical associations often partner with other community leaders, including county health departments, universities and charitable organizations. A great example in my community includes early conversations physician leaders started around the growing public health issue of food insecurity. The discussions include leaders from the L.A. County Public Health Department, L.A. County Medical Association and the community health sciences department at the Fielding School of Public Health, part of the University of California at Los Angeles.
As policymakers and community stakeholders continue to respond to the growing social, political and economic impact of the pandemic, our front-line healthcare teams are an invaluable resource that must be heard at the local, state and national levels.
Our patients and communities are looking to us to be their voice and advocate during this crisis.
Now more than ever, the healthcare community needs to drive the conversations around patient care delivery—or others will do it for us.