US hospitals seeing different kind of COVID surge this time

https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-business-health-pandemics-49810a71d2ca21c4b56adb1d1092b6dd?fbclid=IwAR1KvwTCWhAHZwDlmzgzMiNL5xhBfOySbZwgzXs3IAXtWlHai_VRfni5eaQ

Registered nurse Rachel Chamberlin, of Cornish, N.H., right, steps out of an isolation room where where Fred Rutherford, of Claremont, N.H., left, recovers from COVID-19 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Hospitals like this medical center, the largest in New Hampshire, are overflowing with severely ill, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients from northern New England. If he returns home, Rutherford said, he promises to get vaccinated and tell others to do so, too. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Hospitals across the U.S. are feeling the wrath of the omicron variant and getting thrown into disarray that is different from earlier COVID-19 surges.

This time, they are dealing with serious staff shortages because so many health care workers are getting sick with the fast-spreading variant. People are showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers in hopes of getting tested for COVID-19, putting more strain on the system. And a surprising share of patients — two-thirds in some places — are testing positive while in the hospital for other reasons.

At the same time, hospitals say the patients aren’t as sick as those who came in during the last surge. Intensive care units aren’t as full, and ventilators aren’t needed as much as they were before.

The pressures are nevertheless prompting hospitals to scale back non-emergency surgeries and close wards, while National Guard troops have been sent in in several states to help at medical centers and testing sites.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, frustration and exhaustion are running high among health care workers.

“This is getting very tiring, and I’m being very polite in saying that,” said Dr. Robert Glasgow of University of Utah Health, which has hundreds of workers out sick or in isolation.

About 85,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19, just short of the delta-surge peak of about 94,000 in early September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The all-time high during the pandemic was about 125,000 in January of last year.

But the hospitalization numbers do not tell the whole story. Some cases in the official count involve COVID-19 infections that weren’t what put the patients in the hospital in the first place.

Dr. Fritz François, chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said about 65% of patients admitted to that system with COVID-19 recently were primarily hospitalized for something else and were incidentally found to have the virus.

At two large Seattle hospitals over the past two weeks, three-quarters of the 64 patients testing positive for the coronavirus were admitted with a primary diagnosis other than COVID-19.

Joanne Spetz, associate director of research at the Healthforce Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said the rising number of cases like that is both good and bad.

The lack of symptoms shows vaccines, boosters and natural immunity from prior infections are working, she said. The bad news is that the numbers mean the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, and some percentage of those people will wind up needing hospitalization.

This week, 36% of California hospitals reported critical staffing shortages. And 40% are expecting such shortages.

Some hospitals are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill, the California Hospital Association’s vice president for policy and leader on pandemic matters.

In response, hospitals are turning to temporary staffing agencies or transferring patients out.

University of Utah Health plans to keep more than 50 beds open because it doesn’t have enough nurses. It is also rescheduling surgeries that aren’t urgent. In Florida, a hospital temporarily closed its maternity ward because of staff shortages.

In Alabama, where most of the population is unvaccinated, UAB Health in Birmingham put out an urgent request for people to go elsewhere for COVID-19 tests or minor symptoms and stay home for all but true emergencies. Treatment rooms were so crowded that some patients had to be evaluated in hallways and closets.

As of Monday, New York state had just over 10,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19, including 5,500 in New York City. That’s the most in either the city or state since the disastrous spring of 2020.

New York City hospital officials, though, reported that things haven’t become dire. Generally, the patients aren’t as sick as they were back then. Of the patients hospitalized in New York City, around 600 were in ICU beds.

“We’re not even halfway to what we were in April 2020,” said Dr. David Battinelli, the physician-in-chief for Northwell Health, New York state’s largest hospital system.

Similarly, in Washington state, the number of COVID-19-infected people on ventilators increased over the past two weeks, but the share of patients needing such equipment dropped.

In South Carolina, which is seeing unprecedented numbers of new cases and a sharp rise in hospitalizations, Gov. Henry McMaster took note of the seemingly less-serious variant and said: “There’s no need to panic. Be calm. Be happy.”

Amid the omicron-triggered surge in demand for COVID-19 testing across the U.S., New York City’s Fire Department is asking people not to call for ambulance just because they are having trouble finding a test.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced new or expanded testing sites in nine cities to steer test-seekers away from ERs. About 300 National Guard members are being sent to help out at those centers.

In Connecticut, many ER patients are in beds in hallways, and nurses are often working double shifts because of staffing shortages, said Sherri Dayton, a nurse at the Backus Plainfield Emergency Care Center. Many emergency rooms have hours-long waiting times, she said.

“We are drowning. We are exhausted,” Dayton said.

Doctors and nurses are complaining about burnout and a sense their neighbors are no longer treating the pandemic as a crisis, despite day after day of record COVID-19 cases.

“In the past, we didn’t have the vaccine, so it was us all hands together, all the support. But that support has kind of dwindled from the community, and people seem to be moving on without us,” said Rachel Chamberlin, a nurse at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Edward Merrens, chief clinical officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, said more than 85% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

Several patients in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU unit were on ventilators, a breathing tube down their throats. In one room, staff members made preparations for what they feared would be the final family visit for a dying patient.

One of the unvaccinated was Fred Rutherford, a 55-year-old from Claremont, New Hampshire. His son carried him out of the house when he became sick and took him to the hospital, where he needed a breathing tube for a while and feared he might die.

If he returns home, he said, he promises to get vaccinated and tell others to do so too.

“I probably thought I was immortal, that I was tough,” Rutherford said, speaking from his hospital bed behind a window, his voice weak and shaky.

But he added: “I will do anything I can to be the voice of people that don’t understand you’ve got to get vaccinated. You’ve got to get it done to protect each other.”

CVS wants to employ doctors. Should health systems be worried?

https://mailchi.mp/96b1755ea466/the-weekly-gist-november-19-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

HealthHUB | CVS Health

We recently caught up with a health system chief clinical officer, who brought up some recent news about CVS. “I was really disappointed to hear that they’re going to start employing doctors,” he shared, referring to the company’s announcement earlier this month that it would begin to hire physicians to staff primary care practices in some stores. He said that as his system considered partnerships with payers and retailers, CVS stood out as less threatening compared to UnitedHealth Group and Humana, who both directly employ thousands of doctors: “Since they didn’t employ doctors, we saw CVS HealthHUBs as complementary access points, rather than directly competing for our patients.” 

As CVS has integrated with Aetna, the company is aiming to expand its use of retail care sites to manage cost of care for beneficiaries. CEO Karen Lynch recently described plans to build a more expansive “super-clinic” platform targeted toward seniors, that will offer expanded diagnostics, chronic disease management, mental health and wellness, and a smaller retail footprint. The company hopes that these community-based care sites will boost Aetna’s Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment, and it sees primary care physicians as central to that strategy.

It’s not surprising that CVS has decided to get into the physician business, as its primary retail pharmacy competitors have already moved in that direction. Last month, Walgreens announced a $5.2B investment to take a majority stake in VillageMD, with an eye to opening of 1,000 “Village Medical at Walgreens” primary care practices over the next five years. And while Walmart’s rollout of its Walmart Health clinics has been slower than initially announced, its expanded clinics, led by primary care doctors and featuring an expanded service profile including mental health, vision and dental care, have been well received by consumers. In many ways employing doctors makes more sense for CVS, given that the company has looked to expand into more complex care management, including home dialysis, drug infusion and post-operative care. And unlike Walmart or Walgreens, CVS already bears risk for nearly 3M Aetna MA members—and can immediately capture the cost savings from care management and directing patients to lower-cost servicesin its stores.

But does this latest move make CVS a greater competitive threat to health systems and physician groups? In the war for talent, yes. Retailer and insurer expansion into primary care will surely amp up competition for primary care physicians, as it already has for nurse practitioners. Having its own primary care doctors may make CVS more effective in managing care costs, but the company’s ultimate strategy remains unchanged: use its retail primary care sites to keep MA beneficiaries out of the hospital and other high-cost care settings.

Partnerships with CVS and other retailers and insurers present an opportunity for health systems to increase access points and expand their risk portfolios. But it’s likely that these types of partnerships are time-limited. In a consumer-driven healthcare market, answering the question of “Whose patient is it?” will be increasingly difficult, as both parties look to build long-term loyalty with consumers. 

ROI realized from pre-bill review of documentation and coding

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/roi-realized-pre-bill-review-documentation-and-coding

Hospitals can decrease denials by having physicians involved in the mid-revenue cycle review process.

Involving physicians in the mid-revenue cycle process can increase hospital ROI by 700%, according to Enjoin CEO Dr. James Fee.

Hospitals and health systems can improve revenue through a pre-bill review prior to claims submission, according to Fee. Enjoin does this work as a revenue cycle consulting business focused on documentation and coding. 

One of the first things Enjoin physicians check is that the care of the patient has been properly recorded. 

“We’re never taught how to communicate with those who record our work, so it can be captured in the coding system,” said Fee, who continues to practice as a physician in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Secondly, hospitals need to check the accuracy of the representation of that patient. 

“You want to make sure the severity of the patient is justified to get appropriately reimbursed,” Fee said.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Documentation and coding falls in the middle of the revenue cycle. Through a pre-bill review of the estimated 30-50% of cases that are chosen for review at this stage because of their complexity, organizations can ensure the documentation supports coding compliance, MS-DRG accuracy, quality performance data and other measures.

Results have shown an impressive 700% percent ROI on average and in some cases, 1,000%, according to Fee. On average, the process shows a 17% decline in denial rates.

Hospitals already have clinical staff in the rev cycle. Physicians add a layer of review. 

“We have practicing physicians who understand the disease process,” Fee said. “We look at a case to make sure the diagnosis is correct. What was the focus of care for that hospital stay? That takes a level of clinical interpretation.”

Enjoin, which has been around for about 30 years, does not offer a software product, but uses an analytics platform. It partners with clients as consultants in a technically agnostic way.  

Fee will speak on the topic “Mid-Revenue Cycle Drives Financial Stability During COVID19: How One Academic Medical Center Prospered,” in-person during the Healthcare Financial Management Association annual conference, Monday, November 8, in Minneapolis. 

AUTOMATION

As revenue cycle directors look to automate, this is more easily done on the front and back ends of the revenue cycle rather than the mid-cycle process, according to Fee. This is one area that will have to wait until AI makes it possible to interpret the data seen by physicians and other clinicians, he said.

“Automation is easy to say as one-stop shopping for an easy solution, but you need to understand what you’re automating,” he said.

There can be an automation component to the prioritization of reviews, something Enjoin plans to bring to market soon.

“Automation will continue to rapidly grow,” Fee said, “but there will always be that people component.”

THE LARGER TREND

As in other areas of healthcare, COVID-19 brought a level of uncertainty about the proper testing and diagnosis recorded in the revenue cycle.

During the most recent wave of COVID-19, many hospital ICU beds were again full, and health systems once again were canceling elective surgeries, with a resulting loss of revenue. 

Higher expenses for labor, drugs and supplies, as well as a continuation of delayed care, are projected to cost hospitals an estimated $54 billion in net income over the course of this year, according to Kaufman Hall analysis released last month by the American Hospital Association.

“The biggest impact for reimbursement was the loss of patient care,” Fee said. “We were in a fee-for-service model and margins were driven by elective surgeries.”

COVID-19 also shifted the commercial dominance of margins to lower-paying government reimbursement as employees lost their jobs, according to Fee.

During the first COVID-19 wave in 2020, CFOs were asking he said, “How do I adapt to that?” Many looked to prevent financial leakage in employing resources they already had. 

“That’s where CDI (Clinical Documentation Improvement) is helpful,” Fee said.

The who’s who of funders: 3 key relationships to watch

https://www.advisory.com/blog/2021/09/physician-group-funders

We recently shared an updated perspective on the independent physician landscape. Notably absent from this map, but an important player in this space, are entities, like health plans, private equity, and health systems, who partially or wholly fund some independent physician groups.

We intentionally left these funders off the map because they don’t work in a uniform way with all physician groups. The reality is that funders have their handprints all over this map—and just knowing what type of funder you’re working with doesn’t necessarily tell you how they work with physician groups.

Funders work across the physician landscape because they recognize two things:

  • First, in order to play in today’s physician market, funders need to be flexible in how they work with physicians in order to appeal to the wide variety of groups and build a bigger market presence.
  • Second, building or buying these physician group archetypes outright is not the only way to work with them. Many funders instead opt to invest in them—either through dollars or resources.

Key funders to watch

There are three key funders we track the closest: private equity, health plans, and health systems. Below are brief overviews of how they commonly work with independent groups and our predictions for where you might see them go next.

Private equity (PE): Consistent approach with still to be proven outcomes

The goal of PE firms is to make money on their investments. To do this, these firms buy shares of practices in order to have partial ownership. In return, physician groups get the capital they need to make investments—investments that in theory drive profits for both the physician shareholders and the PE investors. Unlike other funders, PE is rarely associated with full acquisition.

Two of the places we’ve seen the most private equity investment are in consolidation of specialty practices (usually at the national level) or value-based care investments in primary care practices (across all archetypes).

Private equity is gaining traction as a physician group partner because they often try to preserve some degree of physician autonomy and they’ve learned to nuance their investments and pitches based on the group they’re seeking to work with.

We predict: PE will continue to back the full range of archetypes on this map—investing in both independent groups directly and the national archetypes.

What we’ll be watching:

  • What will happen to the handful of major PE investments in the independent physician group space that will be reaching their 5-7 year mark
  • What level of physician autonomy will PE firms continue to preserve as PE gains stronger footholds in the physician landscape

Health plans: The most eager to transform (incrementally)

Health plans are often predominantly associated with a single physician archetype for a given plan. For example, when you think about UnitedHealthcare, you might think of their sister company, OptumCare, and an aggregation strategy. Or, you might think of Blues plans most commonly as service partners.

However, when you dig deeper, the story is much more nuanced. Plans and their parent companies like UnitedHealth Group do often aggregate practices, but they also sell and integrate services via service partner models. And several Blues plans are now building practices from the ground up. To top it off, some plans are even adopting an investment strategy like Anthem with Privia.

Perhaps more than any other funder, health plans often adopt a range of strategies to develop their physician strategy and maintain their existing networks. And even cases where plans aren’t funding entities themselves, they’re thinking of new ways to work with the growing range of physician groups.

We predict: Health plans will move away from a uniform approach to physician practice partnership and towards more multifaceted approaches to appeal to a wide range of providers.

What we’ll be watching:

  • Will health plans diversify their suite of approaches based on the groups they’re pursuing
  • Will health plans tailor their value proposition for each partnership approach

Health systems: Playing catch up to evolve

We often tend to think about health systems as aggregators—they buy independent physician groups and add them to their employed medical groups. But we’re seeing two physician market shifts that are causing health systems to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach.

One, the remaining independent groups are growing in size and, two, they are less willing to be acquired. On top of that, as private equity firms and payers continue to diversify their strategies, health systems must adapt to keep pace—or risk being seen as the least attractive partner.

As a result, more health systems are telling us about their new approaches to physician partnerships, like starting an MSO to act as a service partner or convening coalitions between themselves and independent groups.

We predict: Health systems will face increasing pressure to diversify how they are operating with physician groups. Similar to health plans, we expect to see a pivot away from an aggregation-only approach. To learn more, read our take on how health systems and independent groups should think about partnership.

What we’ll be watching:

  • How quickly will health systems stand up additional partnership approaches
  • Will health systems in markets where they’re the dominant partner proactively adjust their partnership approach versus wait for the market to shift first

Your checklist to work successfully with today’s physician groups

As you evaluate your partnership strategy, here’s our starter list of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Clarify your partnership goals:
    • What are my organization’s goals for physician partnership broadly?
    • What are the archetypes I currently fund or partner with?
    • Do these archetypes serve my organization’s stated goals? 
  2. Identify the right partnership approaches for your organization
    • What new archetypes should I build or work with to advance my organization’s goals and target new physician groups?
    • Do I need to build this archetype myself or is it better to fund one that exists?
    • If funding, should I wholly own or invest in the archetype? 
  3. Define your value proposition to physicians
    • Have I adjusted my value proposition for each of the archetypes I fund or partner with?
    • Am I clearly articulating my value proposition in a way that speaks to physicians’ needs and wants?
    • Does my value proposition align with what I’m actually delivering? For example, if I say I’m preserving autonomy, how am I doing that?
    • How does my value proposition compare and compete with others in the market? 
  4. Map out the power dynamics of the archetypes you want to work with
    • Who has the ultimate decision-making power in the organization? (Hint: Decision-making power gets more diffuse as you move from right to left, national chain to service partner.)
    • Who are the key stakeholders who influence decision-making?

We’ve been defining the independent physician landscape wrong—here’s a new approach

Physician groups and their funders—you've been thinking about their  relationship wrong

We’ve historically divided the physician landscape in two parts: hospital-employed or independent. But over time, the “independent” segment has become more complex and inclusive of more types of groups who don’t fit the traditional definition of shareholder-owned and shareholder-governed. Even true independent groups don’t look like they once did, adapting in ways like receiving funding from a range of investors or adding more employed physicians.

So our standard way of thinking—hospital-employed or independent—has become obsolete. It’s time for a more nuanced approach to a diversified market.

When the pace of investment and aggregation in the independent space picked up, we conceptualized the changes primarily in terms of funder: private equity, a health plan, a health system, or another independent group.

That made sense at the time because each type of funder was using similar methods to partner with groups—health systems acquired, private equity invested directly in the independent group, and so forth.

But the market has shifted such that remaining independent groups are both stronger and more committed to independence. So organizations who want to partner with these groups have had to refine and diversify their value propositions—and often times are doing so without all-out acquisition. For more information on themes within these funder organizations, see our companion blog.

We set out to make sense of an ever-changing independent physician landscape in a way that would make it easier to understand for both independent groups and for those who work with them. Instead of dividing the landscape by funder, we assessed organizations based on their level of autonomy vs. integration, their growth model, and their geographic reach.

The map above has five physician practice archetypes and is oriented around two axes: local to national and autonomy to integration. The four archetypes on the top are larger in scale than a traditional independent medical group, often moving regionally and then nationally.

The archetypes are also ordered based on the degree of physician and practice autonomy, with organizations on the right using more of an integrated and standardized model for care delivery and sharing a brand identity.

So far, we’ve tracked two types of trends within this landscape. First, independent groups partner with national archetypes in one of two ways. Either the groups continue to exist as both independent groups and as part of the corporate identity OR they get integrated into the corporate entity. The exception is that we have not seen national chains integrate existing medical groups—though they may in the future.

The other trend we have seen is the evolution of some of these archetypes. We currently see service partners in the market shift to look more like coalitions. We assume we may see coalitions that start to look more like aggregators, and we know many aggregators have ambitions to function more like national chains. 

Below you will find a brief description of each archetype as well as a more robust table of key characteristics.

Definitions of physician archetypes

Independent medical group

Independent medical groups are traditional shareholder-owned, shareholder-governed practices. They are governed by a board of physician shareholders, and shareholders derive direct profits from the group.

Service partner

A service partner is an organization whose primary ambition is to make profits through providing a service, such as technology, data, or billing infrastructure, to physician groups. This type of partner may create some sort of alignment between practices since it sells to like-minded practices (e.g., those deep in value-based care, within the same specialty), but that alignment is more of a byproduct than the primary goal.

Coalition

Coalitions are formed from physician practices who want to get benefits of scale without giving up any individual autonomy. They join a national organization to share resources, data, and/or knowledge, but each practice also retains its individual local identity and branding. Common coalition models include IPAs, ACOs, and membership models.

Aggregator

Aggregators are the most traditional approach to getting scale from independent medical groups. They acquire practices and usually employ their physicians. The range of aggregators is very diverse. It includes health plans, health systems, private equity investors, and independent medical groups who have shifted to become aggregators themselves.

National chain

We have historically referred to national chains as disruptors, but that name is inclusive of many organizations who are not physician practices and what qualifies as “disruptive” is ever-changing—so we needed a new name that better suited these groups. National chains are corporate organizations who develop a model (e.g., consumerism, value-based care, virtual health) and bring that model to scale, usually by building new practices or hiring new providers. These are highly integrated organizations, with each new location using the same care delivery model and infrastructure.

As the independent physician landscape evolves, it has implications not only for independent groups but for those who work with them. We hope that a shared terminology helps bridge some of the gaps in understanding this complex landscape.

For those who partner with independent groups, we’d suggest reading our companion blog for our take on the three biggest funders and questions to ask yourself to work successful with today’s physician groups.

Cartoon- Bearing the Burden of Anti Mask/Vax Freedom

Private equity as an enabler of Boomer doctor retirements

https://mailchi.mp/13ef4dd36d77/the-weekly-gist-august-27-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

How Much Money Does a Doctor Need to Retire? — Finity Group, LLC

There’s been a lot of hand wringing over the ongoing feeding frenzy among private equity (PE) firms for physician practice acquisition, which has caused health system executives everywhere to worry about the displacement effect on physician engagement strategies (not to mention the inflationary impact on practice valuations).

While we’ve long believed that PE firms are not long-term owners of practices, instead playing a roll-up function that will ultimately end in broader aggregation by vertically-integrated insurance companies, a recent conversation with one system CEO reframed the phenomenon in a way we hadn’t thought of before. It’s all about a demographic shift, she argued.

There’s a generation of Boomer-aged doctors who followed their entrepreneurial calling and started their own practices, and are now nearing retirement age without an obvious path to exit the business. Many didn’t plan for retirement—rather than a 401(k), what they have is equity in the practice they built.

What the PE industry is doing now is basically helping those docs transition out of practice by monetizing their next ten years of income in the form of a lump-sum cash payout. You could have predicted this phenomenon decades ago.

The real question is what happens to the younger generations of doctors left behind, who have another 20 or 30 years of practice ahead of them? Will they want to work in a PE-owned (or insurer-owned) setting, or would they prefer health system employment—or something else entirely?

The answer to that question will determine the shape of physician practice for decades to come…at least until the Millennials start pondering their own retirement.

FDA just fully approved the Pfizer vaccine. Here’s what it means for you.

What full FDA approval means for Covid-19 vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and  Johnson & Johnson - Vox

FDA on Monday issued its full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine to receive approval from the agency.

Up until now, the vaccine—which FDA said will be marketed under the brand name Comirnaty—was authorized for use under an emergency use authorization (EUA). Now, however, the vaccine is fully approved for the prevention of Covid-19 in individuals ages 16 and older.

FDA said the vaccine will remain available under an EUA for individuals ages 12 to 15. A third dose of the vaccine is also still available under the EUA for certain immunocompromised individuals.

Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said FDA “evaluated scientific data and information included in hundreds of thousands of pages, conducted our own analyses of Comirnaty’s safety and effectiveness, and performed a detailed assessment of the manufacturing process, including inspections of the manufacturing facilities.”

“The public and medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S.,” Marks added.

What does FDA’s approval mean for you?

This new FDA approval, new guidance from the federal government, and new regulations from schools and private business have the potential to shift the posture of the currently unvaccinated. Today, just over 70% of American adults have had at least one dose Covid-19 vaccines. The question now is, how far can we get? The answer is up to you.

It may feel like decisions about the treatment and prevention of Covid-19 are out of your control. And while federal agencies and private businesses are making decisions quickly, every one of you has a vital role to play in this next phase of the pandemic. But there are three constituencies I want to speak to directly.

Employers

Many employers have been hesitant to come down hard on vaccine mandates or implementing clear consequences for the unvaccinated (such as submitting to weekly tests). Much of that fear had to do with the fact that vaccines were only approved for emergency use. Today’s announcement of the full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should offer many employers enough comfort to move forward with vaccine mandates. In fact, on the heels of announcing full approval, New York City announced that it would require all education staff to be vaccinated. I expect to see more employers inside and outside of health care following suit. If you are still questioning whether a vaccine mandate is appropriate, we recommend asking yourselves these five questions:

  1. Are you complying with federal and state guidance?
  2. Is a Covid-19 vaccine mandate the best way to achieve your goals?
  3. How will you manage individuals who have legitimate exemptions if you impose a Covid-19 vaccine mandate?
  4. How will you collect ‘proof of vaccination’?
  5. How will you address workforce retention concerns?

Provider executives

Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve recommended that providers adopt a single source of truth mentality to combat misinformation associated with the virus, it’s treatment, and concerns over vaccination. Today, vaccine skepticism is largely why adults continue to pass on their shot, and while the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine isn’t going to appease all of their fears, full approval really does matter to some vaccine hesitant patients, at least according to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Your job is to identify those patients, offer custom outreach that shares the good news of full approval, and direct patients to the right next steps. The more customized the communication can be, the better. But there are some common principles everyone can take when developing strong Covid-19 vaccine communication strategies. In fact, we’ve built a readiness assessment for this purpose. And while this readiness assessment was built for initial rollout, the questions within should continue to guide your organization in addressing key factors such as patient navigation, equity in vaccine access, public health messaging, and vaccine hesitancy and mistrust.

The best communication strategy generates action—action for the patient (e.g., making an appointment for their first dose) but also action steps for frontline providers. Leaders must make sure that their staff is equipped to recognize vaccine hesitancy vs. skepticism, which is rooted in misinformation. Leaders must train staff to listen to personal narratives and not merely default to scientific facts, and leaders must make sure clinicians feel equipped to ease potential patient concerns.

Frontline clinicians

Doctors must also be equipped to handle individual conversations with patients and discuss what this full approval means. Since patients typically turn to their doctors as a top, trusted source of insight, frontline clinicians are more important than ever in driving vaccine confidence. Yet in a recent poll from SymphonyRM, 41% of patients lost trust in their doctors amid the pandemic—and among those individuals, just over half noted it was because their provider rarely or never communicated with them about Covid-19. To regain trust and communicate the importance of the full approval, frontline clinicians should be prepared to proactively communicate and answer the following questions: 

  1. How does full approval differ from an emergency use authorization? Under what conditions is a full approval granted?
  2. Why did the FDA decide to grant this approval? What data or evidence led to their increased confidence in the vaccine?
  3. How should patients view this approval? What concerns, fears, or questions about the vaccine should this approval counter?
  4. How might this full approval lead to increased mandates or pushes for vaccination, and what does that mean for patients?   

Doctors should also continue to be prepared to answer any skepticism or misinformation about the full approval, which may come up during these discussions. In a July poll from KFF, 34% of unvaccinated adults were not at all confident about the safety of Covid vaccines, and 31% were not too confident. Today’s full approval should be used as an opportunity to help increase patient confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

The best defense we have against this virus is vaccination, and full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine gives employers, providers, and frontline clinicians the shot in the arm they need to keep motivating Americans to get vaccinated (pun intended). It’s up to you to capitalize on the momentum of the FDA announcement, whether through your own vaccine regulations or through direct communication to the “watchful waiters” who have been waiting for this moment to get vaccinated. 

Primary Care Faces Existential Threat Over Healthcare Workforce Woes

40% of primary care clinicians worry that the field won’t exist in five years as many in the healthcare workforce experience burnout and plan to leave the field.

 Clinician burnout, lay-offs, and other healthcare workforce challenges coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic are creating issues for primary care, according to a new survey.

About 40 percent of over 700 primary care clinicians recently surveyed by the Larry A. Green Center, Primary Care Collaborative (PCC), and 3rd Conversation worry that primary care won’t exist in five years’ time. Meanwhile, about a fifth say they expect to leave primary care within the next three years.

“Primary care is the front door to the healthcare system for most Americans, and the door is coming off its hinges,” Christine Bechtel, co-founder of 3rd Conversation, a community of patients and clinicians, said in a press release. “The fact that 40 [percent] of clinicians are worried about the future of primary care is of deep concern, and it’s time for new public policies that value primary care for the common good that it is.”

The threat to primary care comes as practices ramp up vaccination efforts. The survey found that more than half of respondents (52 percent) report receiving enough or more than enough vaccines for their patients, and 31 percent are partnering with local organizations or government to prioritize people for vaccination.

Stress levels at primary care practices are also decreasing compared to the height of the pandemic, according to survey results. However, over one in three, or 36 percent, of respondents say they are experiencing hardships, such as feeling constantly lethargic, having trouble finding joy in anything, and/or struggling to maintain clear thinking.

Clinician fatigue could spell trouble for the primary care workforce and the field itself, researchers indicated.

“The administration has now recognized the key role primary care is able to play in reaching vaccination goals,” Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center, said in the release. “While the pressure is now on primary care to convert the most vaccine-hesitant, little has been done to support primary care to date. Policymakers need to bear witness to the quiet heroism of primary care – a workforce that suffered five times more COVID-related deaths than any other medical discipline.”

Many primary care clinicians are hoping the federal government steps in to change policy and bolster primary care and the healthcare workforce. The government can start with how primary care is paid, respondents agreed.

About 46 percent of clinicians responding to the survey said policy should change how primary care is financed so that the field is not in direct competition with specialty care. The same percentage of clinicians also said policy to change how primary care is paid by shifting reimbursement from fee-for-service.

Over half of clinicians (56 percent) also agreed that policy should protect primary care as a common good and make it available to all regardless of ability to pay.

Alternative payment models helped providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, research from healthcare improvement company Premier, Inc. showed. Their study found that organizations in alternative payment models were more likely to leverage care management, remote patient monitoring, and population health data during the pandemic compared to organizations that relied on fee-for-service revenue.

“Many of the practices, especially in primary care, have been extremely cash strapped and have been struggling for many years,” Sanjay Doddamani, MD, told RevCycleIntelligence last year.

This has been a big moment for us to act in accelerating our performance-based incentive payments to our primary care doctors. We moved up our schedule of payments so that they could at least have some continued flow of funds,” added the chief physician executive and COO at Southwestern Health Resources, a clinically integrated network based in Texas.

Value-based contracting could be the key to primary care’s existence in the future, that is, if practices get on board with alternative payment models. A majority of respondents to the latest Value-Based Care Assessment from Insights said over 75 percent of their organization’s revenue is from fee-for-service contracts. This was especially true for respondents working in physician practices, of which 64 percent relied almost entirely on fee-for-service payments.