Public Health

AMA COVID-19 daily video update: Getting physicians what they need to fight the pandemic

Watch the AMA's daily COVID-19 update, with insights from AMA leaders and experts about the pandemic.

Featured topic and speakers

AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger speaks with AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, Group Vice President, Professional Satisfaction & Practice Sustainability, Michael Tutty, PhD, and Senior Vice President, Health Solutions, Laurie McGraw, on updates regarding COVID-19 including personal protective equipment (PPE), telehealth and CPT.

Learn more at the AMA COVID-19 resource center.


Unger: Hello and welcome to the American Medical Association's COVID-19 update.

Today we'll hear more about AMA's efforts to get physicians what they need to fight the pandemic and then focus on our initiatives to expand telemedicine capabilities.

I'm joined today by Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the AMA from Atlanta, Dr. Michael Tutty, group vice president of physician satisfaction and practice sustainability in Chicago and Lauri McGraw, senior vice president, AMA Health Solutions from Big Sky, Montana. I'm your host, Todd Unger, AMA's chief experience officer in Chicago.

Dr. Harris, we'll start with you today. I'll say, you have been very, very busy over the past couple of weeks as a leading voice for physicians to get them more of what they need right now to combat this pandemic, namely more PPE, more doctors, and more financial support. Can you talk about the work that the AMA is doing on these fronts?

Dr. Harris: Well good to be with you Todd. And yes, it has been a busy couple of days, starting with the meeting that I had with the president where I urged him to make sure that physicians and other health professional on the front line have what we need, the PPE equipment and more tests. Really encouraged him to use all the forces, the levers, of the federal government, particularly the Defense Production Act, to make sure that we have the tools that we need.

And I have been on the media circuit. We want everyone to know what physicians on the front line are facing and what they need. So it's been a privilege to make sure we get the message out and we want physicians to know that we are fighting for you.

Unger: On the front of kinda of all hands on deck, the AMA did address the issue of getting more international medical graduates back in action. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Harris: This is very important Todd, because we are seeing the acute need for physicians, nurses and other health professionals on the workforce front.

Just in the last couple of days, we've seen medical students who are forgoing their last couple of months of training and being called to serve. We have a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful resource in our non-US citizen MDs, and so we've asked the federal government to expedite any visa processes, and also, we want to make sure that those who are here now on J1 visa, that they can be redeployed where they are most needed in their particular state or hospital system.

Unger: Great. Last topic. Last week, combined with the American Hospital Association and American Nursing Association, the AMA made a very big ask for financial assistance for physicians during this time. It looks like the senate has passed that stimulus bill. Do you have any top level comments on the outcome of that?

Dr. Harris: Yes, well the senate passed the bill, and we are awaiting the house. We are of course doing our due diligence to see what's in the package, but I can let everyone out there know that the AMA has been advocating for support for physician practices. We know that physician practices have been reducing hours, have postponed elective surgeries. We know that physician practices are often an economic driver in their communities: They pay rent. They pay salaries, and so we have been working hard and advocating for support for physician practices.

Unger: Well, Dr. Harris, thank you for being such a visible face for medicine and for physicians. I wanted to tell you that even my mom called me form Ohio yesterday and said she saw you twice on television yesterday, so it must be working.

Next, we'll move to speak with Dr. Tutty, one of the key strategies for conserving protective equipment has been the use of telemedicine. You just launched, with your team, something to help physicians in that transition. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Tutty: Sure. Thanks, Todd. We've known for quite some time, the importance of telehealth as an ability to increase access for patients. And now, more than ever, with COVID-19, telehealth is increased in importance.

We partnered with the Physician's Foundation, Texas Medical Association, Florida Medical Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society to create the telehealth initiative with the ability to create resources and support practices to implement telehealth.

With this current crisis, we've accelerated getting those resources made available to everyone on our website in our AMA Quick Guide to Telemedicine in Practice. That's available on our resource page on the AMA website.

Whether you're a new practice and you've never done telehealth before or you're an established practice who's quite familiar with telehealth but looking for the latest policy, coding and payment advice—the website has that information for you.

We're currently living in a very fluid situation where payment is changing based on state policy changes, federal policy changes and private payer changes, and we're updating that website daily to keep the latest guidance updated for practices.

Unger: That's actually a good transition, the word payment.

Laurie, you and the team have been doing a lot of work over the last few weeks, starting with fast tracking CPT codes for COVID-19 diagnosis. There's been more progress from your team as well on that front. Can you talk about that?

McGraw: Sure thing Todd, and thanks for having me this morning. I think you got it right. The AMA is in overdrive, and we are working every day to provide solutions to address the most pressing needs that are facing physicians and healthcare workers as they work to address patient needs.

So let's start with the work of the CPT editorial panel. They immediately convened a virtual panel meeting, an out of cycle virtual panel meeting, to provide a new CPT code for the testing of the novel coronavirus.

It was really important for us to get this code right. It is one code: 87635. It is immediately available, and it addressed all available tests and that really is meant to reduce confusion and reduce administrative burden. We are very pleased that as of this meeting on March 13th, this code became immediately available. It is being used by all labs and all payers, and we're really pleased about that.

CPT, it's the gold standard and it has been for quite some time, but we also have found, as Michael mentioned, that with telehealth and telehealth resources—the AMA just published a study. There's been quite a bit of adoption over the past years of telehealth, and while we're pleased with that, it has exploded during this time of COVID-19.

So, we have provided a lot of resources, new coding resources, that go through scenario planning for as physicians and practices are adopting telehealth, and they're standing up mobile drive through centers for doing testing. How do you appropriately code and document and get reimbursed for the services that you are delivering on the front line?

Those resources we made available yesterday. We have seen tens of thousands of organizations viewing and using these resources.

So Todd, we're absolutely committed to providing solutions in a rapid fashion that health care workers, that physicians, health systems, that they can trust, that work, and that address the pressing issues that are barriers to physicians providing care for their patients.

There's more coming. We'll continue to provide them and we're really happy to have those available to the healthcare industry today.

Unger: Thank you so much Laurie, and I think next week we'll have a special segment where we talk more in depth with you and other folks about these advances on the CPT front.

That's it for today's AMA COVID-19 update. I want to thank our guests today, Dr. Patrice Harris, Dr. Michael Tutty and Laurie McGraw.

We'll have another update for you tomorrow, but in the meantime, look for Dr. Harris on Twitter today at #AMAChat. You'll see her chat with AMA's Dr. Aletha Maybank and two of the most prominent voices in the #GetMePPE movement, Dr. Megan Ranney and Dr. Ether Choo.

For updated resources on COVID-19, like our quick guide to telemedicine, go to

Thanks for joining us today.