Two-thirds of physicians who participated in the Texas Medical Association’s third COVID-19 telephone town hall meeting Thursday said it will take at least a month or more for their medical practices to return to the pre-pandemic level of patient volume.
“All physicians have been greatly affected by this pandemic,” said Christopher Davis, a certified public accountant at Sol Schwartz & Associates in San Antonio, who answered questions during the meeting, which focused exclusively on the business of medicine.
While the first and second town halls saw wide-ranging questions, all of the questions in Thursday’s town hall focused on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) initiative designed to provide loans for small businesses to help keep their workers on the payroll. The program forgives loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities, according to the SBA.
Juan Rodriguez, MD, a Brownsville general surgeon, originally paid his staff members – but not himself – when the PPP money came in. He wanted to know if he could now pay himself his previous month’s salary.
“If your salary was included when you applied for the PPP loan originally, then you are required to pay yourself a salary now that you’ve received the PPP funds,” Mr. Davis said.
However, that money has to be used for salary going forward, not for back pay, he added.
Priti Jadav, MD, an internal medicine specialist in Sugar Land, said one of her five employees could not come back to work due to problems finding childcare. Dr. Jadav still needed to hire a replacement and asked how that would affect her PPP loan repayment.
Hiring a replacement in that case would not count against the physician on loan forgiveness because the previous employee was offered her job back at her old salary, says Jim Rice, another a certified public accountant at Sol Schwartz & Associates.
“To the extent that you need to hire someone to replace this person, then … that replaced person should qualify,” he said.
Mr. Rice also strongly suggested that physicians consult TMA’s Practice Viability Toolkit to get help running a practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town hall allowed physicians to express their views via telephone polls on telemedicine and the use of masks by patients.
When asked what challenges physicians faced with delivering telemedicine to patients:
- 49% cited inadequate technology among patients;
- 26% said patients had problems with technical literacy;
- 4% said patients were unable to pay;
- 3% faced language problems; and
- 18% said they faced no challenges with telemedicine.
Physicians also were asked about complications they face because of the new Texas Medical Board requirement for patients to be masked for all appointments.
- 51% said they were OK with the requirement, as long as patients brought their own masks;
- 17% said it was challenging but manageable;
- 14% said it was a significant problem;
- 10% said it was not a problem or that they had enough masks for patients; and
- 8% said they were not aware of the requirement.
Stay up to date with the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.