More PPE? Better telemedicine coverage? New group aims to organize physicians around top concerns

A group of physician leaders around the country launched a new advocacy group Tuesday with the aim to organize doctors around their top concerns. 

With mounting concerns about safety and the financial security of physicians during COVID-19, organizers say the new group, called United Physicians, will take advantage of virtual platforms to pull together a large number around the issues they most care about. 

They called it a "new kind of democratic physician association" that will better represent the interests of physicians compared to traditional medical societies. 

"History has demonstrated representative governance in medicine leads to governance by a small 'board' whose interests may or may not be aligned with the majority of the organization's members. United Physicians is governed by all its members using internet-based voting technology," they wrote. They said they are not trying to compete with other organizations, but could allow other organizations to use the platform themselves. 

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Top leaders of the group include President Paul Teirstein M.D., who is chief of cardiology at Scripps Clinic, medical director of Scripps Prebys Cardiovascular Institute and president of the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons.

It also includes Ziad Ali, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and associate director of translational medicine at Columbia University who will serve as vice president. Gabe Charbonneau, M.D., who is a family physician, entrepreneur, creator of #FightBurnout and president of Osler's Alliance, will serve as secretary.

The board of advisers includes C. Michael Gibson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School; Sanjay Desai, director of the Osler Medical Residency and vice chairman for education in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University; Ehtisham Mahmud, M.D., executive director of the Cardiovascular Institute at the University of California, San Diego; Roxana Mehran, M.D., director of interventional cardiovascular research and clinical trials at Mount Sinai School of Medicine; and Eric Topol, M.D., founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

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How would it work? To join, members must demonstrate they have a license to practice medicine and an NPI number. 

On the virtual platform, members can propose "projects" in a dedicated "petition" room where they can be discussed in dedicated chat rooms. If a petition is signed by more than 15% of members, the project moves to a vote by all physician members.

Those projects can ultimately move to a voting process where, if they receive a supermajority vote, the project can be initiated.

Examples of some projects that could come up for consideration include calling for legislation requiring all workers in patient care areas to have adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and lobbying for the U.S. to maintain a stockpile of PPE, ventilators and temporary hospitals to manage future infection crises following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Another example of a potential project is lobbying Congress for telemedicine to be reimbursed at the same level as in-person encounters after the COVID-19 crisis subsides and lobbying for pre-authorization work be reimbursed at approximately 0.8 RVU per 15 minutes with minimum blocks of 15 minutes.

"United Physicians will only be effective if most U.S. physicians join," the organizers wrote.