Valley Preferred COVID-19 Quality Improvement Project Attracts Nearly 400 Participants
It’s probably safe to say that most physicians practicing today did not learn how to handle a pandemic in medical school. Especially something that’s highly contagious, with unpredictable outcomes, and varying presentation in patients. No one expected a challenge like COVID-19, and it has forced the health care community to act quickly and responsibly in unknown medical territory.
As we know, health care providers across the country and the world have responded with the utmost courage and resourcefulness. Even now, we continue to witness the heroic work of physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and public health professionals in managing the continuation of COVID-19 in our communities. The Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania is no exception, with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), the region’s largest health system, leading the local effort, along with its affiliated provider network, Valley Preferred.
An Opportunity to Reward Innovative Practice
In early 2020, Valley Preferred introduced “COVID-19 Healthcare Delivery and Transformation,” a project avenue supported by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). The project’s intent is to document and maximize the contributions of eligible clinicians ̶ allopathically boarded physicians and PAs ̶ during the pandemic by awarding Maintenance of Certification (MOC) ABMS Part IV or National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) PI-CME for these accomplishments.
According to John Stoeckle, MD, a primary care physician and clinical lead on the project, the idea was a “no-brainer” after all the admirable efforts at LVHN and throughout the area. “All physicians and physician assistants became front line quality improvement practitioners during the pandemic because changes were constant,” he says. “Everyone was learning and finding innovative ways to improve their practices in response to the virus, so we saw this as a perfect opportunity. Clearly, it’s one of the best ways to recognize our professionals’ many outstanding contributions.”
Additionally, leaders recognized that physicians were stretched thin by tending to the overwhelming volume of patients, and their licensing activities may have taken a back seat. “They were not focusing on anything beyond immediate care, and protecting the community, their fellow providers, and themselves from infection,” says Mark Wendling, MD, Executive Director of Valley Preferred. “Our commitment is that no physician or PA will lose their licensing certification because of the extraordinary patient care pressures associated with this pandemic.”
From Idea to Actualization
Needless to say, there has been overwhelming support for, and participation in, the project. As of October 2020, it has drawn almost 400 eligible participants, with clinicians from virtually every specialty represented at LVHN. The Valley Preferred QI Program team has completed submission to all member boards, which may take four to six weeks to process credits to the individual.
The COVID-19 project was developed and put into place quickly as a result of multidisciplinary teamwork. Support was received from every facet of LVHN and Valley Preferred, and from leadership through various other departments. The project’s end goal, in addition to assisting physicians and PAs with needed certifications, is, according to Dr. Stoeckle, “meaningful professional development.”
“Valley Preferred is dedicated to creating value for its members first and foremost,” says Dr. Stoeckle. “Our organization saw this project as one that immediately aligns with our values, and took all the necessary steps to actualize it in a timely manner.”
Contributing to the Overall Good
In early 2020, physicians were making their best guesses about how to manage this new challenge to effectively treat patients, minimize risks of harm, and preserve resources. However, the urgent need now is to evaluate the innovations that were made, and are continuing to be made. This way, we learn what works and what does not, and what kinds of costs are incurred under crisis situations.
“As coronavirus continues to challenge us, health care providers must be prepared to confront it with more effective strategies,” says Mark Wendling, MD, Valley Preferred’s Executive Director. “While doctors and hospitals may not have all the information today, they owe it to patients to study medical successes and failures to more confidently treat those who arrive tomorrow. COVID-19 Healthcare and Transformation is a perfect vehicle for this: As we make improvements, our strategy, tactics, and behaviors will change until we defeat the disease completely.”