The elections may be over, but the advocacy season for family medicine is just beginning. With health policy always on the front burner, it's crucial for physicians to connect with legislators about issues that affect their practices.
The AAFP recently unveiled the Family Physician Action Network to help members make those connections and participate in advocacy efforts. The network is a platform to provide more efficient coordination of awareness campaigns and help members communicate with legislators on topics of concern to family physicians.
The network provides members with tools to connect with their legislators and speak effectively about important issues. Other resources include webcasts, infographics and one-page primers on specific issues so members can get up to speed on health policy. A bill tracking feature details issues affecting family physicians.
- The AAFP's new Family Physician Action Network helps members connect with legislators and participate in advocacy efforts.
- Two AAFP members who began advocating for family medicine with legislators years ago described the ongoing success of their efforts.
- Legislators need reliable sources of information on issues that affect family medicine, and family physicians fit the bill.
An online community platform is open for members to discuss issues and organize advocacy efforts. If members need advice on how to write an op-ed or coordinate a legislative office visit, the site can help there, as well. Individuals can join the Key Contacts program to build and maintain relationships with members of Congress even if they do not know any legislators.
Sarah Sams, M.D., of Grove City, Ohio, told AAFP News that she first got involved in advocacy efforts in 2004 when physicians were battling against malpractice insurance costs. She decided to get active on the legislative front after the high cost of insurance forced her to quit doing obstetrics temporarily.
Sams testified in the Ohio Senate and spoke about the issue with Steve Stivers, then a state senator. Now that Stivers is a U.S. representative, Sams stays in touch with him, regularly discussing medical issues. Sams said Stivers will call her on occasion for input on bills that affect physicians. Once she got involved with an issue that she was passionate about, it was easier to continue being an advocate on issues that create a wider impact.
"So much of medicine is controlled by laws and regulations that are put in place," Sams said. "Often the people who are making laws aren't trained in medicine, and they do not understand how the laws might impact our patients."
Sams prefers to connect with legislators by phone but emphasizes that family physicians should engage through any method they are comfortable with, including social media.
Study Documents Rise of Social Media as Legislative Influencer
Results of a survey(www.congressfoundation.org) of House and Senate staff members clearly indicate that communication with constituents produces results -- even when those interactions happen via social media.
According to the study, which was published last year by the Congressional Management Foundation, 76 percent of survey respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Social media enabled us to have more meaningful interactions with constituents."
Survey respondents also weighed in on precisely how many social media comments it takes for their offices to sit up and take notice, with 35 percent saying fewer than 10 similar comments in response to an office's social media post would draw their attention, and 45 percent saying between 10 and 30 similar comments would do so. The more time that passes before those comments are made, however, has a distinct bearing on whether they'll be reviewed.
Notably, 78 percent of respondents said that when multiple constituents affiliated with a specific cause or group direct social media posts to their office, those messages exert "some" or "a lot" of influence on an undecided legislator. But even social media comments in general can affect a legislator's decision-making process, with 56 percent of respondents saying such comments carry some or a lot of influence.
"From talking with legislators, they say, 'If five people call me about an issue, I consider that an overwhelming majority because so few people call,'" she said.
Family physicians should provide guidance to legislators on important measures even after laws dealing with these issues have passed, because revisions may bring changes.
"As they write new laws for MACRA (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act), we can help them see the unintended consequences of their thinking on some issues," Sams said, giving one example.
Kevin Wong, M.D., of Jeannette, Pa., recalled getting involved in advocacy when Pennsylvania state legislators sought to expand insurance coverage for children in the 1990s. The program eventually grew from a state effort into the nationwide Children's Health Insurance Program. He told AAFP News that he takes pride in being an early advocate for the program.
Recently, Pennsylvania legislators enacted a law requiring primary care physicians to offer a hepatitis C screening or diagnostic test(www.legis.state.pa.us) to patients born between 1945 and 1965. The law includes exceptions, but Wong said such legislation carries unintended consequences that should motivate family physicians to get active at the state and federal levels.
Even when he is not advocating on a specific issue, Wong contacts legislators or their staff to let them know they can ask him about health policy issues. Years ago he formed a relationship with a Pennsylvania legislative staff member who now works for Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and they continue to discuss policy.
"Just as we need to educate our patients, we should educate the people who make laws," he said. "Legislative staff members want to know what is going on, and they are looking for an honest source who can provide explanations."
One important issue Wong brings up when he meets with federal officials is building the primary care pipeline.
"Our first issue is to make sure there are enough family physicians to care for the population," Wong said. "How many people come to D.C. and say, 'We need more people to compete against us?'"
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