NHMS Response to COVID-19 and a Glimmer of Hope
When the COVID-19 crisis really hit New Hampshire, when things really began to change and feel much different, it was right around Friday, March 13. That weekend, we realized that the Medical Society needed to quickly mobilize and respond in any way that we could. We pulled together an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee and had our first meeting on the night of Monday, March 16. That group now meets weekly and has been helping to drive the NHMS response to this crisis. We just had our fifth meeting this past Monday, and were remarking that these past five weeks have seemed like a lifetime.
While we are by no means out the other side of this crisis, we have seen maybe the first glimmers of hope that the efforts of so many across our state are starting to bear fruit. At the Governor’s press conference last Thursday, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan showed data suggesting that NH may just be starting to ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 cases in our state. So this may be a fair time to look at what we have accomplished to date, and to look ahead at what the coming weeks may bring.
Our efforts have coalesced over these past few weeks into two broad areas of work – public health and physician support.
Our public health efforts have largely revolved around supporting Dr. Benjamin Chan, who is also a member of our NHMS Governing Council, and his health care colleagues at the Department of Public Health and DHHS. When you look at what NH has done in the context of the region and the country, you see that we have taken early, aggressive steps to support physical distancing and staying ‘healthier at home’, and where in other states much of the response seems to have been politicized, in NH we have largely kept to facts and science to guide sound public policy. This is a credit to the Governor, his team, and our public health colleagues working tirelessly at the state level, and the NHMS has provided direct and indirect support to these efforts.
On the physician support side, as practices and health systems quickly had to cancel routine patient visits to support patient and staff safety, supporting Dr. Jonathan Ballard, also on our Council, we pushed early-on for expanded telemedicine access and insurer coverage and played a pivotal role in the emergency executive order mandating telemedicine coverage for medically necessary services in NH, to be reimbursed at in-person rates.
We have also worked with payers around the state to help clarify and standardize the implementation of these orders, vetted various vendors who supply telemedicine services, and most recently worked with NH Medicaid to ascertain coverage of well child visits done via telemedicine. We have also worked to quickly understand and organize all of the information about desperately needed financial support programs now in place at the state and federal level. This work has led to the development of three new guides available to NH physicians in our guides for Telemedicine Reimbursement, Telemedicine Vendor Options, and State and Federal COVID-19 Financial Relief. These are just a few of the highlights from the vast amounts of work done in just five weeks.
The NHMS is a small non-profit organization. The power of this group, and its ability to influence health policy and public policy, comes from its thousands of physician members. The Medical Society simply helps to channel those voices and direct that energy to where we can be most effective. We have a volunteer Governing Council and Executive Committee who have given selflessly of their time during this pandemic to help us understand where we can have an impact and what we need to do to affect those changes.
As we move forward in this crisis, we’ll need to continue to apply the best current evidence to our considerations of how to start safely mobilizing our workforce and get our NH economy moving again, and you can be sure that the voices of NH physicians, your voices, will be heard at the state and federal level. Together we have made it to this moment, with a point of possible hope on the horizon, and together we’ll see this through to the other side of this crisis.
Please keep the questions, comments, and new ideas coming.
John Klunk, MD
Please send your questions and comments to email@example.com.