Fighting the pandemic & getting ahead of its lasting effects — 3 insights from Dr. J. DeWayne Tooson

J. DeWayne Tooson, MD, president of Tuscaloosa-based GI Associates of West Alabama, shared insights into the lasting effect of the pandemic and what success will look like in 2021.

Note: Responses were edited for style and content.

Question: What will make or break your practice in 2021?

Dr. J. DeWayne Tooson: Three things immediately come to mind:

1. Illness, absenteeism, disability and death of healthcare workers, physicians and nurses due to COVID-19
2. The increased cost of operating healthcare facilities
3. Price-gouging of medical supplies and personal protective equipment

The healthcare system involves a vast network of professionals that include pharmacists, billing specialists, schedulers, patient navigators, payroll specialists, practice administrators, human resource managers and so on.Top-notch IT professionals are mandatory in order to protect patient health records and to prevent ransomware attacks. The buildings have to be sterilized daily by trained professionals to prevent COVID-19 exposure. If any of these departments are short-staffed, even for quarantines related to family exposure, the whole network could come to a grinding halt. Such obstacles are a daily challenge for medical practices and outpatient surgery centers in small towns and rural America.

On the second issue, when employees of large medical practices [contract] COVID-19, they have to receive federally mandated COVID-19 pay and benefits. All of our team members deserve this pay at a minimum. However, cash reserves and lines of credit can become quickly depleted. At the same time, and despite [working in] the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid continue to cut reimbursement to physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Consequently, if you can't make payroll as a small business, then you won't be open for very long. Some doctors will continue to retire early, which is often disastrous for communities across America.

On the third and final point, if the price-gouging of gloves, gowns, IV fluids, medications and masks does not cease, hospitals and clinics will reach a breaking point. Small medical practices will definitely have a hard time staying open and providing basic medical care for our citizens.

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