Keeping up the fight for family medicine through the pandemic
By Amer Shakil, MD, MBA
Greetings members. What a strange year and a half its been for all of us. As life is slowly and cautiously beginning to return to something akin to normal, we should take a moment to acknowledge the struggles and the achievements we have experienced, both individually and as a specialty. Over these several months, the resilience of family physicians, our physician colleagues, other health care providers, and aides of all sorts has been nothing short of amazing.
I have also marveled at the resilience of our Academy. In February of 2020, it seemed unimaginable that we would cancel April’s C. Frank Webber Lectureship and Interim Session. And then it became obvious that we couldn’t possibly hold the meeting. The Academy would go on to learn to produce virtual conferences, and that’s how we would conduct business for the rest of the year.
Throughout the pandemic, our Academy has remained very active in engaging with our members. Despite the hassles of canceling meetings and figuring out new ways to complete our usual tasks, TAFP’s hard-working staff provided us with much needed support. Whether by helping members obtain personal protective equipment, offering counseling support services, or implementing our new online community platform, the TAFP Exchange, the Academy was there for us.
Consider the work done at the State Capitol during the recently completed 87th Texas Legislature. Although a succession of unprecedented events caused the session to be extremely unusual, to say the least, our advocacy team aided by the timely efforts of many family physicians stood strong for family medicine and our patients. We succeeded in passing a set of health care price transparency measures, including the creation of an all-payer claims database for Texas, which will help us understand what drives health care costs and what reforms can address cost variation across communities.
We also helped protect funding for graduate medical education, helped increase the duration of Medicaid coverage for children and new mothers, and fought back attempts by nonphysician providers to gain independent practice. As a member of many public health and physician organization coalitions, we helped make permanent the state’s pandemic emergency rules that removed barriers to telemedicine access and utilization. And we helped pass significant regulations on the retail sale of e-cigarettes.
Even though Texas continues to have the highest number of uninsured patients in the nation, the Legislature failed once again to expand Medicaid to working-age impoverished Texans. Doing so would have provided access to continuous, comprehensive care to approximately 1.5 million uninsured low-wage citizens while bringing an estimated $10 billion in federal funds to the state each year. We must keep up the fight, advocating for a Texas solution to expand coverage for those who need it.
Aside from advocacy, TAFP’s education department stayed on track throughout the pandemic, hosting online CME events and launching a series of virtual Knowledge Self-Assessment workshops to help members meet their maintenance of certification requirements.
This spring, the Academy took the first steps toward a return to normal by hosting an in-person CME conference, the 2021 C. Frank Webber Lectureship, and it was a huge success. For many attendees, the Austin conference was their first in-person event in many months. Our conference planners worked diligently with the hotel administration to ensure attendees could learn in the safest possible environment, and the evaluations we collected after the event reflected our attendees’ appreciation. Many comments expressed relief and gratitude for the opportunity to come together once again.
Unfortunately, I could not attend. Like many of our colleagues working in various systems and academic settings, a return to in-person conferences was not yet possible. But I was there in spirit! I did attend several committee meetings during Interim Session through video conference.
Since then, we hosted the Texas Family Medicine Symposium in San Antonio, and by all accounts, it too was a great success. More than 240 attendees joined us at the luxurious La Cantera Hill Country Resort in June. Many brought their families and attended our first Family Fun Fest on one of the resort’s vast verandas. They played cornhole, giant Jenga and Connect Four, and enjoyed being together in the beautiful setting.
Having these successful although somewhat restricted in-person conferences is yet another sign that if we continue to be prudent and patient, we will emerge from the pandemic. I’m sure all of you are experiencing similar signs, but we’re not out of the woods yet. This pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the mental health of our colleagues in medicine.
We must be aware of our own mental well-being and that of those around us. TAFP has partnered with Anticipate Joy, an innovative mental health and wellness company, to provide virtual professional counseling services for our members at a significantly discounted rate. I’m glad to report that our members are taking advantage of this very important resource. I would encourage our membership, if you are feeling really stressed out, you may want to check out this service. See page 23 in this issue of Texas Family Physician or visit TAFP.org for more information. If you know of any of your colleagues who are going through a rough patch, please advise them to try this confidential service.
Yes, there are signs everywhere that life is returning to some version of what we know as “normal.” The new “normal” probably won’t be exactly like the days before COVID-19, but I for one look forward to getting back together with you. Our next big opportunity will be the 2021 Annual Session and Primary Care Summit in The Woodlands, November 5 – 7. Until then, let’s take care of one another and let’s take care of ourselves.