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Bonus President’s Message: Ensuring patient safety and medical quality in the era of COVID-19

Image for Bonus President’s Message: Ensuring patient safety and medical quality in the era of COVID-19 Note: Dr. Murphy contributed two President's Messages for this issue. The first was distributed on its own to licensees in March 2020. Read it here.

It’s a vast understatement to say that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on how we live and work. The medical field has been especially challenged, both in responding to the needs of patients coping with the illness, and in rethinking how to care for all patients amid a pandemic.

Some physicians and PAs have been reassigned to meet workforce shortages or provide shift relief in high-demand areas. Others have had to quickly get up to speed with telemedicine to continue seeing patients, many of whom are not comfortable visiting a medical practice in person, lest they be exposed to the virus. These changes have occurred rapidly, forcing our health care infrastructure to find new and creative ways to ensure that patients receive safe and appropriate care.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently issued Executive Order #130 which, in part, directs medical licensing boards to provide guidance on the level of training and qualifications required for medical professionals to meet the state’s needs during the current state of emergency.

In considering how best to offer this guidance, NCMB quickly realized that it can’t predict the specific needs that may arise across North Carolina, or know the level of education, training and experience of clinicians facing new assignments and unfamiliar technologies or modalities. That is why NCMB’s guidance boils down to this: self-assess, get training if you need it and rely on everything you’ve learned in your career.

More specifically, NCMB trusts its licensees to conduct an honest self-assessment of whether they can competently perform any medical task that is asked of them. If additional training is needed to develop competence, then we defer to the state’s health care employers, as well as our licensees, to determine what level of training is needed, and how it should be obtained. NCMB believes the people on the ground doing the work are best positioned to know what is needed. We also trust you will assess the skills of any members of the health care team you supervise and ensure they get the training they need to work safely. Read the official guidance.

Another question that has come up is what will happen if something goes wrong – as things sometimes do – while medical professionals strive to serve patients affected by a rapidly evolving pandemic.

To that, I can only say: Use your best judgment, grounded in your education, training and experience, just like you have your entire career. Make the best decisions you can under the circumstances and put your patients’ interests first. If NCMB receives a report of substandard care or other unprofessional conduct related to care provided during the pandemic, it will look at each case based on the unique circumstances involved, as it always has. I will also remind licensees that NCMB recognizes that accepted standards of care may shift when caring for patients affected by the pandemic.

Thank you for all you are doing to serve your patients and your communities.

Be safe and stay well.