Because of the hardships physicians have faced in the past few years, many of them are experiencing issues like burnout and exhaustion. In order to attempt to better this, the American Medical Association has developed a plan with ideas to bring morale back. Continue reading to learn more about these developments.
The American Medical Association has announced the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians to address pressing challenges facing the country’s physicians.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, physician burnout was a national concern, and the pandemic has driven physician burnout to crisis proportions. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects there will be a shortage of physicians between 37,800 and 124,000 clinicians by 2034.
In comments before the AMA House of Delegates, AMA President Gerald Harmon, MD, said the need for action is urgent. “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.”
The Recovery Plan has five key elements:
- Supporting telehealth services including insurance coverage
- Reforming the way Medicare pays for physician services
- Stopping “scope creep” that expands the scope of practice of non-physicians such as nurse practitioners
- Reforming prior authorization of medical services to reduce administrative burden on physician practices and to avoid care delays for patients
- Tackling physician burnout and reducing stigma around physician mental health
The pandemic spurred unprecedented growth in telehealth, with 90% of physicians shifting to telehealth to provide patient care, and a continuation of telehealth services is in the best interest of physicians and patients, Harmon said.
“[The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] made changes to ensure that telehealth payment rates were equivalent to in-person services including audio-only visits—meaning a telephone call! And then a funny thing happened: doctors and patients discovered that this wasn’t such a bad idea in many circumstances. It’s safe, convenient, and certainly for patients, less time consuming than a visit to the office. In my rural community, patients have substantial geographic barriers like rivers, swamps, and islands that contribute to long travel delays. Digital health is a godsend to these patients,” he said.
Telehealth gains achieved during the pandemic must be preserved, Harmon said. “We know the vast majority of patients and physicians want this type of care to continue after the declared Public Health Emergency is over. Telehealth is here to stay, and we are fighting to update our laws and regulations to reflect that fact.”
Reforming Medicare Physician Payment
Medicare reimbursement for physician services has been inadequate for years, and annual uncertainty about Medicare physician payment is crippling for physician practices, he said.
“Medicare physician payments are the only component of healthcare delivery subject to budget neutrality and have fallen 20%, adjusted for inflation, since 2001—an average of about 1% a year. As a result of various legislative and regulatory provisions implemented prior to and during the COVID pandemic, we were threatened with a 10% cut in Medicare payments this past January. Thanks to the pressure of the AMA and others in organized medicine, Congress acted at the last minute to avert the cuts. This was a major victory. But we should not have to suffer this annual cliffhanger. We need a permanent solution to end the annual battles that threaten the economic survival of physician practices.”
The need for payment reform is undeniable, Harmon said. “We must be able to predict financial returns with some reliability in order to invest in costly infrastructure like new technologies and treatments. In short—we’re done with short-term patches and looming cuts.”