As the number of COVID-19 patients continues to decline (hopefully), we must now catch up on the care of our patients who have delayed treatment for other conditions because of the backlog from COVID-19 caused from a lack of resources in our health care system. Recent media stories have lamented the fact that there is a shortage of physicians, nurses and others who are not available to care for patients in the hospital. A recent “60 Minutes“ segment shown a spotlight on those problems in Louisville, but they are equally acute in other areas too.
We know that the shortage of physicians has been present for many years, in all specialties and at every level. It is just now getting noticed because of COVID-19. This puts us as physicians, and our medical community as a whole in the position of trying to answer the question – what do we do about it? Unfortunately, the physician shortage solutions available are not short-term fixes. Creating more physicians will take years and even a one-for-one replacement will not help as more of us retire or leave our profession altogether. We must also put forward short-term solutions. These might include:
- Becoming active in public health. For every patient that pushed back on getting vaccinated, three did not and prevented a bad situation from becoming catastrophic. We are very busy already, I know, but there is also great satisfaction in participating at the local and community level. Do you or your employer conduct public health outreach? Try it and the satisfaction you receive may revive your sense of purpose. The investment now will play dividends in the near future.
- Improve physician professional satisfaction. Over the next several months, you will most likely hear a great deal about this, including from KMA. We will be reaching out to find out what is happening and what might be done to increase physician satisfaction.
- Improve processes. We spend too much time on unnecessary work. That has become obvious to everyone. Improvements might include implementing the lessons we have learned these past two years, including telehealth. Kentucky has been a leader on this issue, but the federal government (Medicare) has no plan to continue the relaxation of telehealth rules after the pandemic. To be blunt, going back to the rules pre-pandemic simply can’t happen.
- Become a leader. We are leaders, but we need to constantly improve our skills. Physicians have been leaders during the pandemic. KMA offers education on leadership, most notably our award winning KPLI program. Check it out if you’re interested and see how you might be able to help at the community level.
We need to prepare our profession, now, for the future. Let’s do it together.”