Two weeks ago, I wrote that the coronavirus outbreak was nearing pandemic status, and that we had just identified our first patient with COVID-19 in New Hampshire. What a difference two weeks makes in this new world we suddenly find ourselves in!
In that short time, the reality of the situation has become clear here in the Granite State. While our tireless public health colleagues are still working on a containment strategy on a case by case basis (26 confirmed cases with 208 persons with tests pending in NH as of this writing), we have clearly moved aggressively toward mitigation strategies as New Hampshire and greater New England are experiencing pockets of community transmission of COVID-19.
We now find ourselves in the setting of a national emergency declared by the President, a statewide declaration of emergency declared by our Governor, and with our schools, restaurants, and bars all closed by mandate of the Governor. Social distancing, which before a few weeks ago was probably unknown to most outside of the public health arena, is now the norm, and most businesses in the state, including health care, have encouraged or mandated remote work wherever and whenever possible, in an attempt to limit the spread of this virus.
The NHMS Executive Committee is holding weekly conference calls to discuss a number of issues of concern to our members, and I can assure you that the Medical Society is in close if not near-constant contact with our state legislators, the Governor’s office, and our congressional delegation to make sure that your voices and concerns are heard and addressed.
One key issue that we’ve heard from all corners of the state is the importance of expanding telemedicine, both from the standpoint of continuity and safety of patient care, as well as reimbursement issues. Yesterday CMS announced that Medicare will temporarily loosen many of the restrictions in place around telemedicine, and will reimburse those visits at in-person rates. We are working closely with the Governor to implement similar measures in the state with our Medicaid and commercial payers.
If you are like me, you are being constantly barraged with an unprecedented stream of news and information about this pandemic, via multiple channels—news, email, text, social media. There are literally updates every day and in some cases hour to hour. The Medical Society will continue to try to synthesize and summarize all relevant information for physicians and PAs in the state, and provide that information to you via this online publication, The NHMS Pulse, as well as our new COVID-19 weekly online newsletter, to try to help provide a trusted source of information that aggregates everything you need to know in one place.
In living memory, we have not seen a health crisis like this – not locally, nationally, or globally. This will test each of us both personally and professionally, and I do not take that lightly. But I know that we will respond in a way that is equal to this moment, because this is what we do.
We take the best evidence available at the time, we make a plan to implement it, and then we execute. It is this approach that will save patient lives here in NH and across the country. I am already seeing it happening all around me, as entire health systems redeploy staff and set up innovative new systems and respond to each new challenge that is laid out before us.
In times of extreme crisis, health care workers are often on the front lines, and we always rise to the occasion. I have never been so proud to be a NH physician as I am today, and I know that with the challenges to come, I’ll be able to say the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that. Please stay safe, keep yourselves as fed, hydrated, and rested as possible, and thank you for everything you are doing and will do in the days to come for the citizens of our great state.
John Klunk, MD
Please send questions or comments to email@example.com.