American College of Physicians Says Let Doctors Speak Out

April 2, 2020

Policy statement also physicians should be allowed to bring in their own PPE

Amid about reports about clinicians getting fired - or being threaten with being fired -  if they speak out about the lack of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 problems at their workplaces, the American College of Physicians (ACP) issued a policy statement yesterday saying that physicians should be allowed to air their concerns and grievances.

“Physicians should not be at risk of having their employment terminated, or be otherwise disciplined, for speaking out in a professional manner, within their health care systems or publicly, on conditions and practices related to care of COVID-19 patients (including lack of personal protection equipment) that the physician has direct knowledge of and believes is in conflict with the health and safety of patients and clinicians,” the policy says.

There are several press accounts of firings. An emergency room physician in Washington state and a nurse in Chicago said they were fired for issues related to PPE. Bloomberg reported that the NYU Langone Health system put out a warning to employees not to talk to the media without authorization.

ACP, the professional association for internists, also said in the policy statement issued Wednesday that physicians should be allowed to bring their own their personal protection equipment (PPE) to work if the items are in short supply.

Reports of shortages of PPE are common. The federal government’s emergency stockpile of PPE is nearly depleted, government officials, including President Trump, acknowledged yesterday. “The stockpile was designed to respond to [a] handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state epidemic,” a Department of Homeland Security official was quoted as saying by the Washington Post

The ACP policy statement says health care systems should work with physicians to improve care and patient safety.

“Physicians may appropriately decide that going public (including to the news media and on social media) with their concerns is their professional responsibility, to achieve needed change for the health and safety of patients and clinicians, both within the health care facility and more broadly,” the statements says.