COVID-19 vaccine distribution: Independent primary care practices are suffering

Jan. 6, 2021 / By L. Gordon Moore, MD

We’ve had months and months to plan. We have expert guidance on how to prioritize COVID-19 vaccine distribution in ways most likely to benefit all Americans, and yet in the middle of the worst COVID-19 surge to date, it seems there is more energy for finger pointing than getting a serious plan in place.

I want to focus on one aspect of the non-planning that I heard about from a friend in primary care practice in eastern Virginia. 

He’s a family physician who chose to open his own practice to serve his community. He is the first point of contact when his patients need to access the health care system. His small practice is founded on the principle that having a relationship over time with his patients better serves their needs—the relationship builds understanding and mutual trust. His practice provides for the bulk of his patients’ health care needs, and when his patients need care from the larger health care system, he makes sure to coordinate that care.

He is the living example of primary care and the kind of practice that many people consider the ideal. And yet his practice could not obtain personal protective equipment (PPE). Small independent practices don’t have the resources to compete in the frenzied grab for PPE against all 50 states and large health systems with entire departments dedicated to supply chain.

This morning I heard that he has no idea when he might receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  He doesn’t even know if he’s on any list. His experience is shared by many (if not most) independent primary care practices across the country.

Primary care is the front line of our health care system. High performing health care systems invest in primary care because these clinicians work to improve health, prevent illness, and prevent illness progression.

We lose primary care providers (PCPs) to COVID-19 at much greater rates than hospital-based physicians. Populations suffer when we lose PCPs. Access to health care becomes worse, clinical outcomes decline, more people end up in the hospital and die.

We know from the experts that we all benefit when clinicians on the front lines of health care are alive and able to care for the rest of us during this public health emergency. The physicians, nurses and clinicians in primary care practices are the absolute front lines. Somehow they were left off the list. This is a mistake, and it needs to be rapidly addressed.

L. Gordon Moore, MD, is senior medical director, Clinical Strategy and Value-based Care for 3M Health Information Systems.

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