COVID-19: Eight steps for getting ready to see patients again


8. Update or reformulate your business plans.

Some physicians in smaller practices may have to temporarily or permanently rethink their situation. Those who have struggled or who have closed down and are considering reopening need to update their business plans. It may be safer economically to become part of a bigger group that is affiliated with an academic center or join a larger health care system that has more funds or resources.

In addition, Dr. Kaloostian suggests that primary care physicians become more flexible in the short term, perhaps working part time in an urgent care clinic or larger organization to gain additional sources of revenue until their own practice finances pick back up.

For offices that reopen, the AMA recommends contacting medical malpractice insurance carriers to check on possible liability concerns. Congress has provided certain protections for clinicians during this time, but malpractice carriers may have more information and may offer more coverage.

Dr. Coleman said a hybrid model of fewer in-person and more telehealth visits “will allow me to practice in a different way.” If the CMS reimposes prior restrictions, reimbursement may be affected initially, but that will likely change once insurers see the increased cost-effectiveness of this approach. Patients with minor complaints, those who need to have medications refilled, and patients with chronic diseases that need managing won’t have to deal with crowded waiting rooms, and it will help mitigate problems with infection control.

If there’s any upside to the pandemic, it’s an increase in attention given to advanced care planning, said Dr. Kutner. It’s something she hopes continues after everyone stops being in crisis mode. “We’re realizing how important it is to have these conversations and document people’s goals and values and code status,” she said.

Are offices likely to open soon?

An assumption that may or may not be valid is that a practice will remain viable and can return to former capacity. Prior to passage of the CARES Act on March 27, a survey from Kareo, a company in Irvine, California, that makes a technology platform for independent physician practices, found that 9% of respondents reported practice closures. Many more reported concern about potential closures as patient office visits plummet because of stay-at-home orders and other concerns.

By mid-April, a survey from the Primary Care Collaborative and the Larry A. Green Center found that 42% of practices had experienced layoffs and had furloughed staff. Most (85%) have seen dramatic decreases in patient volume.

“Reopening the economy or loosening physical distancing restrictions will be difficult when 20% of primary care practices predict closure within 4 weeks,” the survey concluded.

For the practices and the doctors who make it through this, we’re going to probably be better, stronger, and more efficient, Dr. Gonzalez predicts. This shock has uncovered a lot of weaknesses in the American health care system that doctors have known about and have been complaining about for a long time. It will take an open mind and lots of continued flexibility on the part of physicians, hospitals, health care systems, and the government for these changes to stick.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.

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