Communication Efforts Pay Off in Show-Me State

Missouri AFP Keeps Members Energized

July 30, 2013 03:15 pm Sheri Porter

When it comes to cultivating and nurturing its family physician members, the Missouri AFP(www.mo-afp.org) (MAFP) holds the magic key -- communication -- a term defined by Merriam-Webster as an act of transmitting a verbal or written message.

The cover photo on the spring issue of the Missouri AFP's quarterly publication, Missouri Family Physician, featured six medical students from the University of Missouri-Columbia who matched to family medicine residencies on Match Day 2013.

The chapter uses multiple resources and methods to keep its members informed and engaged, including a quarterly magazine, a biweekly blast e-mail dubbed the "Show Me State Update," special legislative updates, and activities created to involve its resident and student members.

Chapter leaders also recognize that good communication is a two-way street.

"We recently did a member-needs survey, so there will be a story about the results in the next magazine issue," said MAFP Board Chair Kate Lichtenberg, D.O., M.P.H., of Kirkwood. "The story will highlight what members said we're doing well and what they said we could do better.

"The board's message back to members is, 'Please don't wait until there's another survey if there's something you want to see us do,'" she added.

Story Highlights
  • Missouri AFP leaders understand that two-way communication with chapter members is key to engaging them.
  • The chapter employs various communication tools, including a four-color print magazine, a biweekly blast e-mail update and a member-needs survey.
  • The chapter boasts 1,900 members and recently won three membership awards from the AAFP.

Several awards bestowed on the Missouri chapter by the AAFP in April prove that the chapter's member engagement efforts are paying off. The MAFP came in first among large AAFP constituent chapters for the highest percentage increase in student membership and garnered a second-place award for the highest retention rate of active members. The chapter also was recognized for having 100 percent resident membership.

Power of Print

The crown jewel of the chapter's communication efforts is Missouri Family Physician, a four-color print publication mailed every quarter to more than 1,900 family physicians. The 20-page magazine, supported by outside advertising, is designed to keep members abreast of member activities and up-to-date on educational opportunities.

"I'm proud to say it's an award-wining publication," said Lichtenberg, who serves as co-editor along with George Harris, M.D., M.S., of Lee's Summit. In 2010, the magazine won an award of excellence in association management in the category of communications from the Missouri Society of Association Executives.

It's a winner with members, too, according to the recent member survey. "More than 70 percent of members who responded to the survey 'agreed' or 'strongly agreed' that they found value in receiving the magazine every quarter," said Harris.

Missouri AFP Board Chair Kate Lichtenberg, D.O., and George Harris, M.D., serve as co-editors for the chapter's magazine Missouri Family Physician and also co-chair the chapter's member services commission.

One popular section of the publication is titled "Resident Grand Rounds." It features a clinical case study presented by residents and their preceptors. The articles come from residencies around the state. "It has really taken off," Harris told AAFP News Now. "These are cases that residents are being exposed to in their own programs," he said, and the magazine offers many residents their first opportunity to be published. Articles must adhere to strict editorial guidelines, and there is a three- to four-month backlog of articles in the queue, he noted.

In the April-June 2013 issue, (then) MAFP President Lichtenberg and Harris, co-chairs of the chapter's member services commission, each wrote separate articles, hers a president's message and his a follow-up on 2013 Match results. Both articles featured the author's photo.

"It's important that members have a contact that they can reach out to," said Harris. "We want them to be able to recognize us at meetings. Those photos say, 'We are here for you and want to be as accessible as possible.'"

The chapter also makes a bold statement by continuing to embrace a print publication in a world increasingly dominated by electronic communications. When the magazine arrives in physician offices, "members recognize what it is and where it comes from," said Harris. "It ends up in the right pile -- the 'read this' stack -- rather than getting tossed."

"We send out a lot of material electronically," said Lichtenberg. "But when members get something in their hands that they can hold and look at, it gives them a better sense of what the MAFP is doing for them. And the responses we get to the stories we publish help us set agendas for what we're going to look at as a chapter down the road."

Still, for those who prefer an online format, Missouri Family Physician is available from the chapter's website as a digital publication(www.mo-afp.org).

MAFP Vice President Peter Koopman, M.D., displays a poster contest award bestowed on resident Mimi Propst, M.D., during the chapter's annual scientific assembly; maintaining resident and student members is a chapter focus.

Angling for Advocacy

Advocating Missouri family physicians' issues at the state level also requires the ability to communicate about legislative issues. Enter MAFP Advocacy Commission Co-chairs Arthur Freeland, M.D., of Kirksville, and Keith Ratcliff, M.D., of Washington.

According to Freeland, the chapter moved its office from Kansas City to Jefferson City a few years ago when the long-term chapter executive left. "We moved to be close to the capital, to be more centrally located and to better serve members," said Freeland. A renovated house just four blocks from the Capitol building serves as MAFP headquarters.

Freeland said the chapter has contracted with a part-time government consultant since the early 1990s. In more recent years, the consultant has stressed the importance of participating in the election process. "And so, the political action committee (PAC) was born through (the consultant's) encouragement and the push of the leadership," said Freeland.

Membership in Missouri's "Club Jefferson," modeled after the AAFP's PAC, requires a monetary pledge of $2 a week, or $104 yearly. Ratcliff pointed out that readers who haven't seen a $2 bill recently might not know that the bill features a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, which ties in nicely with the name of the state capital.

"The PAC is not a membership organization. It is a vehicle for members to make donations for legislative purposes and help pro-family medicine political candidates win election to public office," said Freeland.

"We (MAFP) exist not to have political influence, but to provide education for our members, to add to their professionalism and to support the specialty, but we have to have a political presence to accomplish those things," he added.

"Sometimes, advocacy means keeping something from occurring that chapter leaders know potentially could harm FPs and their patients," said Freeland. For example, the MAFP, with the help of the consultant, has prevented

  • creation of an independent certification board that would determine training criteria for laboratory technologists, technicians and phlebotomists;
  • granting of independent prescribing authority for psychologists; and
  • granting of independent practice authority to nurse practitioners.
Facts About the Missouri AFP

Chapter executive director: Jennifer Bauer
Number of chapter members: 1,900
Location of chapter headquarters: Jefferson City
Website:(www.mo-afp.org)
2013 Annual Fall Conference: Nov. 8-10, Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale

The chapter's biweekly e-mail often includes legislative issues. "Members are linked to a site that includes all the bills we are following, so anyone who wants to learn more about what we're doing in the legislature has a route to do that," said Freeland. Members also are provided contact information for their legislators.

At the end of each legislative session, the consultant provides a report to the chapter. That report covers "what did and didn't happen, and what might have happened had we not been there," he added.

Participation in the chapter's advocacy commission is open to all members, and all are invited to provide feedback to the commission by calling into regularly scheduled conference calls. "We want everyone to be a part of the conversation," said Freeland.

Ratcliff pointed out that the chapter partners with the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA). "We have like interests," he explained. For example, the MAFP encourages members to participate in an MSMA training curriculum on advocacy.

"We have our officers -- and anyone else who wants to testify at the Capitol -- get as much training as possible so they can learn how to approach legislators and how to speak in public," said Ratcliff. In other words, good communication skills.

Building Momentum in Missouri

Bill Fish, M.D., of Liberty, the chapter's recently installed president, said that even advocacy setbacks can have an energizing effect on members. He pointed to family physicians' most contentious issue in the 2013 legislature, namely the Missouri Supreme Court's removal of hard-won, noneconomic damages caps that had been instituted as part of tort reform measures passed in 2005.

"The caps had been so successful at lowering premiums in the state," said Fish.

Admittedly, the court's reversal was hard to stomach. However, "Events like that strengthen the resolve of our membership," said Fish. "The great majority of family physicians understand this is not the time to sit on the sidelines. It is necessary to get in the trenches and fight for our patients and our specialty, and they've shown a willingness to do so."

Fish sees challenges ahead for a state with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature that increasingly are at odds with one another when it comes to implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But his outlook remains positive.

"With our active membership and our quality professional staff, we feel well positioned to advance quality health care initiatives in Missouri," he said.

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