AAFP Board Initiatives

Four Projects Aim to Shape Future of Family Medicine

May 17, 2019 03:27 pm News Staff

If you were at the Family Medicine Experience in New Orleans last year, you know how satisfying it is to watch a family physician take a baseball bat to an EHR system.

[Arrow pointing ahead on road]

But in reality, FPs need more effective remedies, so the AAFP Board has dipped into reserve funds to take on the highest-priority issues facing family medicine and AAFP members today. After a series of discovery sessions, Board meetings, and requests for vendor proposals, the Board approved a one-time investment in four special projects meant to play a significant and meaningful role in advancing family medicine.

An EHR-related project, called the Tech Innovation Project, is one of them. The other three are the Consumer Public Relations Project, the Advocacy Engagement Initiative and the Website Modernization Initiative.

Expect to hear much more about these projects and the changes they are helping drive for family medicine as they evolve and deliver results. And now that this work is underway, take time here to read about the high-level strategies behind each project.

As you might have guessed, fixing the EHR conundrum is high on the list.

Story Highlights
  • The AAFP Board has approved a one-time investment in four special projects meant to play a significant and meaningful role in advancing family medicine.
  • The work addresses technology, consumer public relations, advocacy and interaction with members.
  • The special projects are intended to move the needle on the highest-priority issues that family physicians face.

Tech Innovation Project to Revolutionize EHRs

Family physicians have reported through the Member Satisfaction Survey that administrative burden is the No. 1 issue they face today, and reducing it is the top strategic priority at the Academy.

While EHRs have potential to improve health care, existing products have not achieved this goal, and the burdens associated with them contribute to physician burnout.

"We have been waiting years for EHR vendors to address our concerns and make a product that is useful -- and less burdensome -- to family physicians," said AAFP President John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska. "The problem has been that EHR products have been designed by people with backgrounds in tech rather than a background of family medicine. In an age of Alexa and Siri, we are still using DOS.


"We are done waiting."

The Board is jump-starting the creation of something that actually works for family physicians -- one that is designed by, and for, FPs to let them focus on patient care.

The AAFP is moving forward on two fronts. First, the Board approved a four-year project last fall focused on driving innovation in health IT for family physicians by reducing burden and supporting care delivery, and leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning. To spur this innovation, the Academy will conduct pilots of new solutions in real-world family medicine practices to determine whether they are effective and adoptable.

This also will allow the Academy to give feedback to participating companies on how to improve their solutions for family physicians.

The ultimate goal is a self-documenting EHR employing AI and machine learning to allow the computer, staff and patient to be the main generators of the record, leaving the physician to focus on caring for the patient.

And to help fill gaps in existing health IT, the Academy is working on challenge programs similar to the XPrize(www.xprize.org) that will encourage development in areas where family physicians most need support. One piece of the work that has already started is a challenge project, launched in partnership with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, to address the administrative barriers of clinical quality measurement reporting. Other challenges are aimed at closing gaps and developing solutions to support key capabilities.

Innovation isn't just for the technical field. It's important to stay relevant and innovative in every discipline, and that includes how the Academy promotes and protects family medicine through public relations efforts.

Consumer Public Relations Project to Elevate Family Medicine

It's puzzling how often television networks invite subspecialists to offer commentary on primary care health issues that they don't screen for or treat. The AAFP means to change that.

The Academy's public relations staff already is effective at telling family medicine's story through traditional media outlets. Board members commonly respond to interview requests from The New York Times and the Associated Press on health care policy issues, and they regularly speak as experts on clinical topics in outlets like HealthDay and Healio.

During the next three years, however, the AAFP is going to add something new. The Board has given the green light to a partnership with Edelman, a renowned communications marketing agency with deep expertise in the health sector, aimed at the consumer audience. The effort will raise the AAFP's game by putting family medicine in the national spotlight. This is bigger than a typical public relations campaign; the goal here is for family physicians to capture the hearts and minds of the American people.

When a network news show wants to talk about health care issues, a family physician should be the trusted face and voice of medicine. When a measles outbreak hits or flu is widespread, Americans should hear from a family physician who can speak from experience. These are the types of opportunities Edelman is well-positioned to help the Academy seize.

The partnership is an opportunity to educate the public and amplify the message about the value of family medicine. The AAFP has heard from members that it is essential to get out the message about who family physicians are, what family physicians do, and why family medicine is so important. This project will do just that because Americans deserve to know why they should come to family physicians for health care.

As with public relations, the Academy's government relations staff in Washington, D.C., is bolstering its efforts with the assistance of outside experts.

Advocacy Engagement Initiative to Get Results

Research conducted on behalf of the AAFP by Ballast Research showed that the Academy is one of the most effective and influential advocacy organizations in Washington, as well as one of the most bipartisan, results-oriented organizations conducting advocacy in any industry. The Academy is very good at influencing legislation and regulatory policy. But final votes are what matter, and the Ballast research suggested that the AAFP has an opportunity to exert more influence on final decisions by lawmakers and administrators on issues that matter most to members.

This new advocacy initiative will enhance the Academy's lobbying by engaging expert consultants who specialize in this area.

The AAFP has entered into agreements with firms that have strong background on each side of the political aisle. Leavitt Partners is led by former Utah Governor and HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, and its employees have extensive experience in Congress, HHS and the White House. Jennings Policy Strategies is led by Chris Jennings, a senior health policy advisor in the Obama and Clinton administrations.

The firms, which have high visibility and strong positive reputations, will help the AAFP advocate for key issues including payment reform, insurance reform and workforce growth.

Website Modernization Initiative to Optimize Digital Platforms

Finally, the Academy plans to launch a modernized version of its website in March 2020. The website of any organization is its virtual front door, and the AAFP's is getting a modern-day upgrade so members who visit will remember why they joined the Academy in the first place.

The project should make being on the website, in and of itself, feel like a member benefit, and it will work to entice prospective members to learn more and feel an urgency to join.

First, aafp.org and the AAFP mobile app will become more similar so members who use both will have a cohesive experience. The content will focus more sharply on family medicine, and will be more streamlined and easier to digest, especially on mobile devices.

The updated site also will be more personalized to anticipate members' needs -- for example, offering active members a different user experience than students and residents will receive. The site also will learn how to better serve individual members with enhancements such as suggesting more content related to clinical topics that a visitor may read about. Every experience a member has on the website will be personalized, each more tailored than the last, so aafp.org eventually will know every visitor as well as Amazon does.

The new website is expected to be ready for members to preview Sept. 24-28 in Philadelphia during the Family Medicine Experience.

These projects are intended to be bold, innovative and even audacious. They take on a wide scope of vital work, just as the family physicians who make up the AAFP do. But it's all focused on straightforward goals: making sure family physicians have the tools to give their patients the best health care, making sure Americans know that family physicians are their best source of primary care, and making sure family physicians are paid right.

"The good thing about chaos is that it disrupts the status quo and allows you to create your own future," Cullen said. "And that is what the AAFP is going to do."

Stay tuned for updates on these initiatives as they progress.