Colleagues and friends,
While I understand your inboxes are at capacity with COVID-19 emails, I want to virtually check-in with all of you. Borrowing the words of others, this truly is the ‘crisis of our time,’ and the enormity of the stress, both personally and professionally, has been unparalleled. My thoughts go out to everyone, especially to those members of our society and beyond, who is at the front lines of this pandemic. As many of us transition from performing the indicated and essential, albeit often elective, care of pelvic floor disorders to more acute surge planning – wondering if we will be working in the ICU or emergency department in the coming days or weeks – I want you to know that the AUGS Board continues to support you in new and unprecedented ways.
As the situation becomes even more dynamic, AUGS has been collaborating with our associated societies including ACS, ACOG, SGS, SGO and AAGL on various COVID-19 related practice issues. While it has only been a few weeks since we started these advocacy initiatives, it seems like ages ago. Since we still are unsure of the ultimate impact of the virus on health care systems, most hospitals have limited elective surgery in order to preserve resources such as PPE and hospital capacity. We have also advocated to the CDC and Congress for increased availability of PPE across the specialty to protect ourselves and our patients.
While I have never liked the term elective associated with our pelvic floor surgeries and procedures, AUGS collaborated on several joint documents including information on elective surgery guidelines and basic safety considerations when surgery is deemed urgent or essential. The latter document has recommendations that transcend the realm of FPMRS, however we thought these more general surgical safety guidelines might be of interest to our membership as we may be called upon to vary our usual practice patterns during this time. Obviously, these circumstances are dynamic and decisions about when to resume more elective pelvic floor care will be based on local and national conditions and future guidelines and recommendations.
With the moratorium on non-essential surgeries and procedures, as well as the social distancing recommendations, and stay at home orders, our clinical practices have been impacted in very real ways. AUGS participated with a large group of surgical specialties led by the American College of Surgeons to advocate for health care relief for individual practices and hospital systems affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given that many of us have now converted to primarily virtual care for our patients with pelvic floor disorders, it is fortunate that Congress made several changes to federal telehealth provisions in the first spending bill on March 6. The Corona Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third and recently passed legislation also contained several telehealth provisions. The CARES Act includes significant funding for the Health Care System to assist not only with COVID-19 related care but also to counteract the impact on significant slowing of usual care that we deliver daily. We will continue to keep you apprised of any additional information given that a fourth federal package is likely in the coming days.
While telehealth is a relatively new paradigm for most of us, the utility of this new virtual reality has significant benefits to our patients not only during these unprecedented times but moving forward. We need to realize that this event represents a sentinel moment for the delivery of virtual care/telehealth within our broader health care system. In some ways, these next few months will be a telehealth feasibility study for CMS and commercial carriers that will very likely impact how we are reimbursed in the future. I personally believe telehealth offers a novel opportunity to deliver appropriate high-quality care by yet another modality. Given that AUGS and our Coding Committee is still digesting the details and impact of these spending bills, we have developed an AUGS portal to consolidate this information for you. A webinar is in the planning stages for April 16 to provide guidance to the membership on telehealth coding issues, as well as how to apply for one of the federal relief packages.
The AUGS Board will work with our supporting committees to help assist you during this rapidly changing clinical environment. We have developed a centralized COVID-19 Resources page on the AUGS website which includes a wide array of information and recommendations from multiple sources including the federal government, health care agencies and medical societies, and additional information on telemedicine, certification and licensure.
Not only has COVID-19 impacted all of us individually, several AUGS conferences including an exciting Advanced Practice Provider (APP) Course and the Prolapse Consensus conference have been postponed or modified. While we had to postpone the APP course for now, we are monitoring conditions (as everyone is) to determine when we can proceed with this excellent meeting either in person, virtually or both. However, we did successfully complete a virtual Prolapse Consensus conference this past weekend, which while not the same as being together as a group, went off without any major technical issues and was informative and very productive. The AUGS Board would like to thank the faculty and all the participants who were open to transitioning to this format, which served to strengthen our experience with virtual conferences. These are likely to expand in our post-COVID-19 world. I would like to remind everyone that we already have our monthly AUGS Webinar series and our eLearning portal with previously recorded webinars and other educational material that I invite you to review in your spare time. The Education Committee is in the process of developing a guide for our current webinar library to assist you in organizing your virtual learning objectives.
As we receive notifications from many societies canceling or postponing their meetings, the PFD Week Planning Committee continues to develop the 2020 program. As we are unable to reliably predict the future, AUGS will continue to develop multiple alternative scenarios for our fall meeting but at this time I am hopeful that we will be sharing our experiences in person. The planning committee recently extended the deadline for abstract until April 20 in order to give some flexibility during these times.
We are also considering how these events are impacting fellow and resident education and are actively working on additional virtual educational opportunities for our learners. In the theme of collaboration, we have partnered with SUFU and SGS to augment traditional fellow education with a temporary FPMRS Fellow Webinar Series. This series is meant to offer some additional content during this pause in clinic activity and will begin this coming Wednesday (April 8) with a live streaming event. The details will be distributed in the coming days.
Finally, and in the spirit of dissemination of our science, the AUGS Journal, Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, has thrived over the last four years under the editorial leadership of Dr. Linda Brubaker. The AUGS Board was pleased to offer her a renewal for another five-year term as Journal Editor and she has graciously accepted. We look forward to the growth of our Journal in the upcoming years under her continued leadership.
Please stay safe,