James Madara, M.D.

The Importance of Restoring Trust and Pushing Innovation in 2021


As we begin a new year with a new administration and new Congress in place, it is crucial that government and public health officials at every level begin the difficult task of restoring the trust in science, evidence and data that have so eroded in the past year.

We start the year at a critical phase in this pandemic and with a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 at hand. Physicians, leaders of organized medicine and in our scientific community must work collaboratively to reduce the politicization of this pandemic and communicate credible public health information to the public. And we must work strategically to reduce the misinformation and disinformation that have come to dominate our discussion of the greatest threat to public health in generations.

The American Medical Association is committed to doing all we can to help restore that trust and to promote a national vision for health care that is centered around equity and is rooted in evidence-based science and data, without regard for political ideology. Key to that vision is ensuring that all people have access to meaningful, affordable health care. Increasingly, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, that means availability of remote care and breaking down the traditional walls of the exam room.

AMA has long recognized the important role telemedicine would and should play in a 21st Century health system – and not surprisingly demand for telehealth services exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A November survey by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition – comprising more than 1,000 health care organizations, technology firms, and nonprofits – reported that more than 75 percent of respondents said telehealth enabled them to provide quality care for COVID-19-related care, acute care, chronic disease management, hospital/emergency department follow-up, care coordination, preventative care, and mental/behavioral health.

AMA is working to help physicians navigate this new health care landscape. The AMA-led collaborative we launched in 2020, called The Telehealth Initiative, includes more than 20 physician practices that are receiving expert coaching support and identifying best practices for telehealth implementation. AMA’s Telehealth Implementation Playbook, which is available for free on our website, outlines a clear, efficient path to rapid, scaled implementation of audio and visual visits, along with a wealth of institutional knowledge and best practices curated from experts in the field.  On the policy side, AMA helped solve one of the most significant barriers to wider adoption of telemedicine by pushing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to remove restrictions on where patients can be located to receive these services under Medicare rules. AMA is committed to working with policymakers, Congress and the new administration to make these changes permanent and further remove barriers to adoption.

Telehealth represents a fundamental change in how physicians deliver care, and how patients experience it, bodes well for the future. Moving forward, we will need physician leaders, government, and health organizations working together to ensure that challenges of efficacy, privacy, and equity do not become barriers to widespread telehealth adoption.