WHA’s Rural Physician Leaders Roundtable recently held its second set of meetings in 2020. The roundtable is a forum for physician leaders in rural communities to connect, discuss common challenges, learn from each other, help one another to become more effective physician leaders and to promote the vitality of rural health. Nineteen roundtable members participated on May 7. The discussion focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roundtable members reviewed the latest data from WHA’s COVID-19 Dashboard, discussing how the pandemic is currently impacting Wisconsin hospitals. A number of the physician leaders noted they review the dashboard on a daily basis to understand the trends in their community as well as around the state. This was especially useful for physicians who participate in the rural roundtable who are leaders in health systems and have oversight over multiple hospitals across Wisconsin.
In general, roundtable members agreed that the ability to do testing was improving but not as robust as it needs to be. One physician commented that having in-house testing was a “game changer” in terms of the ability to optimally manage symptomatic patients and/or staff. While the PPE supply chain is becoming more reliable, most hospitals are having to re-use PPE, especially N95 masks, and are doing so in accordance with CDC guidance.
A number of physicians noted the acuity of patients presenting to their emergency departments has been higher over the past few weeks. Roundtable members believe that some of the public is fearful of going to an emergency room for non-COVID medical concerns and, because of that self-imposed delay, eventually present with more advanced conditions. As rural hospitals return to performing previously postponed necessary procedures, roundtable members shared how their individual hospitals are approaching screening and/or testing patients and caregivers. Physician leaders are aware of and working to lessen staff anxiety and potential burnout.
Overall, roundtable members are feeling more comfortable about their hospitals’ ability to understand and manage COVID-19. Nonetheless, many expressed concern about potential future spikes or secondary surges. One positive aspect of COVID-19 that physician leaders noted is that the pandemic has pushed their institutions to more quickly embrace the advantages of providing care through telehealth.
The Rural Physician Leaders Roundtable meets quarterly and is a “virtual” meeting using audiovisual conferencing. Physicians interested in joining the roundtable or who would like to learn more should contact WHA Medical Director Mark Kaufman, M.D.