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Tuesday Sep 22, 2015

Practice Perspective: Patient Stories Get Attention of Media, Policymakers

One of the most important roles of the AAFP president is spokesperson, and I’ve done a lot of speaking this year.

In the first few weeks of September -- my last month as president -- I talked to reporters about health care apps, ICD-10, meaningful use, vaccination rates, workforce issues and more. On one particularly busy day, I did seven interviews.

As I traveled around the country this year to roughly a dozen constituent chapter meetings, it was clear there is a perception by many of our members that AAFP directors aren’t practicing physicians. But that isn’t the case. Although I traveled about 200 days during my term, I’m still a practicing small-town doc with a solo practice in rural Nebraska. So when members say to me that I don’t know what it’s like dealing with the day-to-day issues of a family practice, I say, “Yes, I do. I do what you do.”

That in-the-trenches perspective has helped me in my role as spokesman and advocate. For example, I know how challenging meaningful use has been and how the many shortcomings of electronic health records are hampering our practices. I’ve talked about it not only with the media but also with Congress.

What I've found is that whether I’m speaking with reporters or legislators, being a practicing physician makes a difference because both groups want to know how health care issues affect patients (their readers and constituents, respectively).

“Do you have an example?” is a question I’m asked on a regular basis. Invariably, my answer is, “Yes, I do.” And I’ve noticed that when I provide journalists with a compelling patient story, it almost always makes it into their articles.

Sharing stories about how patients are affected by things such as access to care or how physicians are being affected by issues such as payment helps inform public debate and, ultimately, shape policy. There’s no better example from this past year than the repeal of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. The AAFP and our members advocated relentlessly for years to have this flawed formula replaced. Thanks to your numerous letters, emails and phone calls, Congress voted overwhelmingly to replace the SGR and move forward with a new model for Medicare payment.

Thank you to everyone who joined us in this battle. Our voice and our stories are being heard and are a powerful force for changes in our health care system. The patient-centered medical home is mentioned in the Medicare Access and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Reauthorization Act, the legislation that repealed the SGR, largely because of our advocacy efforts.

Of course, our work is not done. We continue to communicate with Congress and federal agencies about many other challenges, including meaningful use.

Some vital programs that support and promote primary care -- including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Health Resources and Services Administration -- have been targeted for cuts as Congress looks to reduce federal spending. But rest assured that the Academy is pushing back.  You can follow the AAFP’s advocacy efforts on these issues (and others) and get involved in our grassroots movement on our advocacy Web page.  

Sharing our stories is a powerful thing.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president of the AAFP. He will transition to the role of Board chair on Sept. 30.

Posted at 10:00AM Sep 22, 2015 by Robert Wergin, M.D.

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