AMA President Suggests Leadership Crucial During COVID-19 Pandemic


In a presentation at the APA Spring Highlights Meeting 2020, Patrice Harris, MD, says telemedicine is crucial to maintain care while decreasing the risk of COVID-19.

As many are forced home due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), leadership from doctors can help ease some of the concerns from patients and stop the spread of misinformation.

During the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Spring Highlights Meeting 2020, Patrice Harris, MD, President of the American Medical Association (AMA) said the only way to limit the damage the pandemic will cause to the healthcare system is for doctors and administrators in leadership positions to exhibit those leadership traits.

“There is no question that leadership is needed in this moment in our history,” Harris said. “So, I think we can all attest to the importance of trust in our relationships and daily lives and interactions with our patients.”

Harris harkened back to a 2019 speech about earning public confidence in an era of mistrust, but said that message is even more essential as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris cited a statistic where 75% of individuals in the US say they lost trust in the federal government and 66% say they are losing trust in one another.

“And these low levels of trust are problematic as you know if in this time of crisis,” she said. “When people need to be able to trust those in authority.”

However, trust in doctors has not waivered much in recent years.

“We are ranked among the most trusted professions and maintain that because we meet competency and honesty and compassion,” Harris said. “When we think about competency we think about the fact that our competency is rooted in our adherence to science and the evidence.”

This, Harris said, is essential as a small minority of people tend to spread misinformation about the spread of COVID-19, either out of fear or political agendas.

Harris said leadership can be exhibited by doctors through honesty with their patients, even when the news is difficult to share, or the patient is not expecting what they hear.

Another dimension of trust is for doctors to exhibit care, compassion, and concern for others. This trait is especially crucial for psychiatrists.

“Physicians are caring, compassionate healers and our patients rely our training and compassion,” Harris said. “They know, they depend on us to act on science and evidence. To treat them holistically and to act for them and changes to law that are contrary to their interest.”

Harris explained that AMA is trying to lead by example during the pandemic by providing trusted evidence-based resources and clear guidance to physicians on the frontline.

The pandemic is also exposing some of the pre-COVID-19 issues, including inequitable care and a lack of funding for the infrastructure of mental health and substance abuse disorders.

However, telemedicine remains a crucial piece to ensuring care maintains and improves during social isolation by ensuring patients have access to treatment while decreasing the risk the virus spreads.

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