The ACP position paper, "The Health Care Response to Pandemic Influenza," was released at ACP's Annual Session in Philadelphia.
The paper critiques the national preparedness plan for health care response involving multiple health-care providers and says that a comprehensive and effective health care response is critical to save lives, decrease illness, and avoid disruption to the economy. To achieve these goals, ACP believes that physicians in all health care settings, and particularly primary care physicians in non-hospital settings, must be fully integrated into the response plans.
The Role of the Internist
ACP recommends that internists, who as primary care physicians represent the backbone of the health care system, play a critical role in the planning and strategy for addressing pandemic influenza or other public health crisis. ACP says that internists should receive hands-on clinical training to address a public health crisis, such as pandemic influenza.
A pandemic, ACP warns, will place extraordinary and sustained demands on the U.S. health care system. All non-hospital-based health care providers (particularly internists and family practice physicians) will need to be prepared to counsel, diagnose, treat and monitor patients outside of hospital settings in order to decrease the likelihood of patient surges that would overwhelm hospital capacity. "Earlier this year ACP warned that primary care is on the verge of collapse," emphasized ACP President C. Anderson Hedberg, MD, FACP, president of ACP. "If trends continue, there will not be enough internists to care for an aging population, leading to higher health costs, lower quality, and greater inefficiency. The collapse of primary care would be particularly disastrous during a public health crisis."
ACP supports strengthening public health emergency preparedness efforts through:
- The development of local task forces that include physicians representing all practice settings, including physician volunteers.
- The use of health information technology tools for effective surveillance, monitoring and reporting of patient health status during an influenza pandemic.
- Development of clear policies regarding doctor-patient confidentiality, infection control, and physician safety.
- Measures to increase the Strategic National Stockpile of pandemic influenza vaccine and antiviral medications. National procurement of sufficient vaccine for the U.S. population will be critical to preparedness efforts. Ending delays in the delivery of vaccine and achieving vaccination targets for seasonal influenza is a public health imperative for responding to pandemic influenza and other public health emergencies.
Failure to integrate primary care physicians into local and state response plans will result in greater confusion, lower quality of patient care, and will potentially cost lives, ACP concluded.
ACP (Doctors of Internal Medicine. Doctors for Adults®) is the largest medical-specialty organization and second-largest physician group in the United States. Membership includes 119,000 physicians and medical students. Internists provide comprehensive primary and subspecialty care to tens of millions of patients and take care of more Medicare patients than any other physician specialty. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses in adults. ACP works to enhance the quality and effectiveness of health care by fostering excellence and professionalism in the practice of medicine.
The policy paper can be viewed at http://www.