President Q&A

AAFP President Michael Munger, MD

AAFP President Michael Munger, MD

AAFP's Munger Brings Experience, Empathy, Passion

AAFP President Michael Munger, MD, of Overland Park, Kan., can relate to his family physician colleagues regardless of their work environment. That's because of the variety he's experienced in a medical career spanning more than three decades.

For the first 16 years as an owner/member of an eight-physician family medicine group, Munger worked in the independent practice world with all the joys and stresses that brings. Also during his first 10 years in practice, Munger did affiliate teaching with a family medicine residency in Kansas City, Mo.

Now, as a physician in a health system-owned practice, Munger appreciates access to plentiful resources but acknowledges the loss of control that also comes with that work environment.

AAFP News recently visited Munger in his practice in Leawood, Kan., to learn more about what drives his passion and how he plans to lead the AAFP during his tenure.

Q: Why did you seek this top leadership role in the AAFP?

A: I have been involved with the AAFP my entire career. I have a passion for family medicine and for our patients. I believe my voice will continue to lead our organization in a direction that will benefit our members and, most importantly, our patients.

Q: What is your greatest strength as a leader?

A: First off, it's the ability to listen and to see all sides of an issue. Because of my varied background, I have empathy for physicians in all situations, and I can relate to the circumstance they're going through.

My goal, at the end of the day, is to always do what's in the best interest of our specialty and our patients.

Q: Can you name a topic that you expect will be prominent during your term as president?

A: I know our members are quite frustrated with the administrative complexity that is involved in the day-to-day practice of medicine. Look at electronic health records; they were promised to simplify practice, but many physicians will tell you that has not yet happened.

Much of our members' angst is tied to paperwork such as prior authorization requests from payers and that endless flow of forms that need attention. Family physicians are looking for relief from that overall burden and from tasks that hinder rather than help them with hands-on patient care. The AAFP recognizes their concerns and is working hard to make things better.

Q: Is there a particular issue that keeps you awake at night?

A: One of my real concerns is around payment reform. And it's a multilevel concern. Will we really see meaningful payment reform? Because if what develops is based on our historically undervalued fee-for-service RVU (relative value unit) system, then our revenue streams will continue via different methods, but family physicians will still be undervalued and underpaid.

I truly lay wake at night worrying about our members and their ability to survive in a value-based system—especially our docs in small practices and in rural communities across the country. I recognize that family medicine practices are at different levels of readiness, and the AAFP aims to ensure that no practice is left behind when it comes to transitioning to value-based payment.

Q: Physician well-being is a hot topic nationwide. How can the AAFP help family physicians resolve some of the issues associated with this issue?

A: Physician resiliency is critical in today's fast-paced world of medicine. The AAFP is already engaged in providing resources to help family physicians identify if they are at risk of burnout and employing tools to help them maintain a sense of well-being.

But the most important thing the AAFP can do is to work on the drivers that lead to physician burnout; identifying solutions will remain at the top of the AAFP's priority list.

Q: What's the one big thing you want family physicians to understand about their AAFP?

A: We are a bipartisan membership organization. We're going to continue to advocate for our members and our patients based on our long-held principles around affordable and meaningful coverage for all. The AAFP will continue working to reduce administrative complexity in medicine and will keep pushing our messages out about the value of primary care and increasing the overall spend on primary care.

It doesn't matter who presides in the White House or what party controls Congress—our message will remain the same. The AAFP's priorities are based on the needs of our members and our patients.

Q: How will you adjust to a new schedule that will reduce clinical time with your patients?

A: I've already cut back. Almost three years ago, I took on an administrative role in my health system, and that prompted me to reduce my clinical time. So, I've already gone through the painful process of cutting back my patient panel.

The other advantage I have in adjusting to the new schedule is the fact that I am based four-tenths of a mile away from AAFP headquarters in Leawood, Kan., and so days that would be considered travel days for other board members are days I can spend in the office. It's definitely a bonus.