Physician Advocate: Coronavirus Pandemic Shows Need to Ease Regulatory Burdens
By Christopher Cheney
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is highlighting the need to reduce regulatory burdens in healthcare, the president of a physician organization says.
Healthcare is one of the most highly regulated sectors in the U.S. economy. Regulatory compliance costs hospitals $1,200 for every patient admitted, according to the American Hospital Association.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need to include physicians’ input in healthcare policy and regulations. Physicians are the foundation of our healthcare system, yet we have long endured interruptions to the physician-patient relationship and to the workflow of our practices from regulatory decisions,” says Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation.
The pandemic has compounded the stress and burnout physicians were already experiencing from regulatory burdens, he says. “Prior to the pandemic, onerous regulations made it difficult to enjoy practicing medicine and hindered the physician-patient relationship, which 78.7% of physicians regard as the most satisfying part of their job, according to our 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians.”
Government officials should include physicians in the design of regulations, Price says.
“To create a patient-focused industry that fosters improved health outcomes, physicians should have influence in reform that addresses inefficient electronic health records and ever-changing practice and payment models, as physicians are patients’ biggest advocates. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, policies that are physician-informed will increase efficiency in practices and emphasize patient safety and outcomes.”
Telehealth: Regulatory move in the right direction
An example of a burdensome regulation that has been eased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements for telehealth, Price says.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it would loosen the HIPPA restrictions around telehealth to expand access. Now patients can access telehealth appointments through consumer platforms that allow for private video chats, such as Skype or Facetime. Previous regulation required that practices use HIPPA-compliant platforms, but transitions to such platforms are time-consuming and physicians are working frantically to get their patients access to care immediately.”
A recent survey conducted by The Physicians Foundation and Merritt Hawkins shows a spike in the number of physicians using telehealth to provide patient services. The survey, which was published last month, found 48% of physicians are treating patients with telemedicine. The 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians found that 18% of doctors were practicing with telemedicine.
EHR: Need for improvement
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to improve interoperability regulations for electronic health records (EHR), Price says.
“As knowledge about the virus changes every day, physicians need to be able to access and share patient data immediately, which difficult to do with EHRs. Redesigning EHRs with physician input could increase efficiency and lead to better patient outcomes, as well as relieve stress and burnout in physicians.”
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.