As the federal government works on how to best distribute the vaccine to physician offices, ACP assures members it will keep them informed
May 21, 2021 (ACP) -- The American College of Physicians is at the forefront of an effort to make it easier for primary care physicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines to their patients. ACP has been lobbying the federal government for reforms and monitoring progress so members can understand how best to deliver vaccines to their patients.
Primary care physicians should play a significant role in the vaccine effort for several reasons, said Dr. George M. Abraham, president of ACP, who has spoken to the national media about this topic. “Patients trust us with their vaccine questions, and we are well equipped to address issues of vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “In addition, we provide better access to patients. Patients don't need to travel far, and often the vaccine can be given as part of their regular office visit.”
According to a February survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 75 percent of those who expressed at least some willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine said they would be “very likely” to get vaccinated at their doctor's office if it was available, while 44 percent said they were “very likely” to get vaccinated at a government-run mass vaccination site. Thirty-eight percent of respondents -- by far the highest percentage -- said their doctor's office is where they would most like to get a vaccine.
ACP supports the lifting of logistical hurdles that may prevent primary care physicians from being able to easily provide COVID-19 vaccinations, especially as the vaccination rate has begun to slow down. “While we certainly are supportive of an all-hands-on-deck approach to get everyone vaccinated, we've advocated for physician practices that are ready to be included in that vaccine pipeline,” said Shari Erickson, ACP vice president for governmental affairs and medical practice.
Fortunately, she said, “the Biden administration has really recognized the importance of improving access to vaccines, and they're working on how to best distribute the vaccine to physician practices.”
Indeed, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy highlighted the “the primary care pathway” in a PBS interview: “We are increasingly working to get vaccines into primary care doctors' offices and to rural health clinics, which are … going to get vaccines directly from the federal government, as well as funds to support outreach.” And The New York Times reported that “to build up confidence in vaccines, federal officials plan to enlist the help of family doctors and other emissaries who are trusted voices in their communities.”
“We're looking forward to getting more specifics,” Erickson said, “and we'll share that information via the COVID-19 vaccine hub on our website.”
Also at the federal level, ACP is spotlighting the need for better physician reimbursement for conversations with patients about the vaccines. “There's no meaningful mechanism to be paid for those conversations other than a virtual check-in with a small payment that's not sufficient,” Erickson said. “We're advocating to allow the use of a more robust existing code that addresses preventive care and risk management.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has created the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund to cover the cost of administering the vaccines to patients whose health plans do not cover vaccination fees or cover them with patient cost-sharing. “On top of increasing reimbursement rates tied to administering the shots, we are closing the final payment gap that resulted as vaccines were administered to underinsured individuals,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, said in a statement. “No healthcare provider should hesitate to deliver these critical vaccines to patients over reimbursement cost concerns.”
Abraham cautioned that primary care practices will need to make adjustments to provide COVID-19 vaccinations. “Vaccine storage would be challenging, especially when ultra-cold storage is required, and it will be necessary to line up multiple patients simultaneously to avoid wastage given the short shelf-life of certain vaccines,” he said. “Also, there will need to be physical space -- in a waiting room or exam rooms -- that's dedicated for observation post-vaccination, and a crash cart will need to be available to cover the rare vaccine-related emergency.”
Still, he said, primary care physicians are ideal vaccine providers. “We know the patient's health history and can provide guidance about the timing and choice of vaccines,” he said, “and we are well-suited to provide management of symptoms and reactions after vaccination. We're a crucial component of the overall vaccination picture, and it's heartening to see that our role will grow.”