Public Health

Pandemic challenges make physicians’ voice more critical than ever

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

The physician voice has always been critical in shaping health care.

But as COVID-19 has laid bare flaws and inequities in the U.S. health system and the nation grapples with how to move through—and past—this pandemic, the physician voice is more crucial than ever.

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The physician perspective needs to be heard as states and municipalities decide when and what to reopen. And physician input is imperative to the conversation on how to eliminate inequities in America’s health care system, the AMA’s president, immediate past president and president-elect said during a recent AMA COVID-19 video update.

The AMA has advocated for physicians and patients during the pandemic, said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, a psychiatrist in Atlanta. She also encouraged individual physicians to be engaged at the local level.

“Certainly, the motto that I've mentioned often, ‘Nothing about us, without us,’ plays here,” she said. “No policy regarding physician practices should occur without physician input.”

AMA President-elect Susan R. Bailey, MD, echoed Dr. Harris' sentiment that physicians be engaged, especially as physician autonomy has been threated during the pandemic.

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COVID-19 related efforts on the advocacy front at state and national levels

“If physicians can't be physicians and protect themselves and their patients in the way that they feel as best, then we're all in trouble,” said Dr. Bailey, an allergist/immunologist from Fort Worth, Texas.

You can stay up to speed on the AMA’s COVID-19 advocacy efforts and track the fast-moving pandemic with the AMA's COVID-19 resource center, which offers a library of the most up-to-date resources from JAMA Network™, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. 



As the pandemic continues and states move to reopen, all three physicians stressed the importance of looking at data and letting science guide decisions. They also underscored the importance of physicians lending their voice as decisions are made.

AMA Immediate Past President Barbara L. McAneny, MD, said physician practices should perhaps be one of the earlier businesses to open because physicians understand physical distancing, good hand hygiene and the precautions needed to prevent infections.

“That would assist with patients who have chronic diseases that are going neglected during the COVID pandemic, to be able to get in and make sure their diabetes is not out of control, that their hypertension is not run rampant, and that their asthma and other diseases are getting taken care of,” Dr. McAneny said.

Dr. Bailey said she participated in a phone call discussing whether Tarrant County-Fort Worth, Texas, should reopen May 1. Physicians, clergy and the mayor’s office representative on the call concluded the answer was no because cases weren’t declining and hospital intensive care units were full.

“We just are hopeful that the communities will follow the science, will listen to their physician leaders and not get too hasty,” she said.

Learn more with the AMA about the four signposts states should follow to safely reopen America.

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Shaping the future of health care during the pandemic

The physician voice also is needed to advocate changes after this pandemic.

Dr. Harris said the pandemic has exposed cracks in the nation’s mental health system and studies in a number of cities have shown that African-Americans have been disproportionately impacted. In Georgia, 80% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have been African American, she said.

Dr. McAneny said Gallup, New Mexico, where her practice has a clinic, shows what happens in communities that cannot alter living situations or isolate. The town of 30,000, which experienced severe health disparities before COVID-19, in late April had more cases developing daily than Albuquerque, home to 1 million people. She said inadequate internet across the reservation, means they can’t provide telehealth that involves video.

“There are so many flaws, so many people left behind,” Dr. McAneny said. “The AMA needs to be the truthsayer in terms of not only the science. We need to be a trusted source for our patients as to what actually works and what does not, and that is more needed now than ever, but we also need to look at what our health care system will really need to do well going forward as we face this epidemic and future epidemics.”