As the U.S. continues to break single-day records for the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses, many of the nation’s physicians continue to report problems accessing the personal protective equipment (PPE) that is essential to limiting further spread of SARS-CoV-2.

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More than one-third of the 3,500 doctors responding to an AMA survey on COVID-19’s financial impact on physician practices said that acquiring PPE was “very” or “extremely” difficult. Smaller practices report even greater troubles, with 41% of physicians in practices of five doctors or fewer saying that getting PPE was “very” or “extremely” difficult.

Meanwhile, cost remains an issue, with physician practices spending on PPE rising by an average of 57%, according to the AMA survey conducted over the summer.

From the very start of the pandemic, the AMA’s leaders have fervently advocated to the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other key players the need for a Manhattan Project-style effort to ensure that the necessary quantities of PPE are produced and distributed where they are most in demand.

Now the AMA is stepping in to help keep physicians and their patients safe, collaborating again with the nonprofit Project N95 to reserve quality-certified PPE exclusively for AMA members to purchase with no minimum. Available equipment includes:

  • Makrite 9500-N95: sizes small or medium/large, FDA 510(k) cleared and CDC NIOSH approved.
  • Makrite 910-N95FMX duckbill-style surgical N95 mask: FDA 510(k) cleared, CDC NIOSH approved.
  • Isolation gowns: AAMI Level 1​.
  • Face shields: Meet FDA EUA face-shield requirements

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COVID-19: A physician guide to keeping your practice open

Project N95 is the national clearinghouse for critical PPE and essential medical supplies. As the leading rapid-response nonprofit organization created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Project N95 helps health care and front-line workers source PPE from vetted suppliers while driving transparency in the market through procurement best practices.

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Among the small physician practices having trouble obtaining PPE is the three-doctor Fort Worth, Texas, allergy and immunology practice that Susan R. Bailey, MD, is part of. When the pandemic first hit, she turned to her practice’s supply cabinet for PPE.

“The only masks we had in our office when the pandemic started was one box of 10 N95 masks that I had bought during the H1N1 pandemic in 2010, and I was amazed we still had them,” said Dr. Bailey, who was inaugurated as the AMA’s 175th president in June. “There are—just coincidentally—10 people in our office, and everybody got one and we said, ‘This is all you get until we can find some more.’”

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Physician practices are losing out in the scramble for PPE

That search for more PPE has proven extraordinarily frustrating, and added yet one more administrative burden amid a time of great stress for Dr. Bailey and her practice colleagues.

“It’s been a free-for-all. Many offices have not been able to open as much as they would like because they don’t have enough PPE,” said Dr. Bailey.

“There’s even more competition now for PPE than there was at the beginning of the pandemic because other, nonhealth-related businesses, schools and churches are looking for PPE as well so they can open up safely,” she said.

“Nobody is immune to this. It doesn’t matter who you are. If the president of the AMA is having a hard time finding PPE, that is a clear expression of how incredibly difficult it is for the entire physician population.”

Learn how the AMA is advocating to end recurring PPE shortages.

In the early going, the word went out to everyone in Dr. Bailey’s practice to bring whatever PPE they could, wherever they could find it. That led to wasting precious time due to misadventures with online retailers offering overpriced items of dubious quality.

“In a small, independent practice, we are the IT person, we are the HR staff—and now we’re the PPE procurement officers as well,” Dr. Bailey said.

Stay current on the AMA’s COVID-19 advocacy efforts and track the pandemic with the AMA's COVID-19 resource center, which offers resources from JAMA Network™, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. 

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