Guest Editorial

New President-elect Brings Family Medicine Perspective to AMA

July 13, 2016 02:50 pm David Barbe, M.D.

As a fellow family physician, it is a pleasure to share my thoughts with you as I take on a new role at the AMA. Last month, my AMA colleagues elected me to be their next president, beginning in June 2017. I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to bring family medicine's perspective -- a holistic view of each patient's unique needs throughout their lifetime -- to my new leadership position. The AMA's Board of Trustees( now has five members whose background is family medicine -- a strong showing for our specialty.

[David Barbe, M.D.]

David Barbe, M.D.

As family physicians, we understand that our profession is a calling, not just a job. We have the privilege of caring for people at every stage of life. Our specialty allows us to get to know our patients over many years and interact with them in our communities. Whether we watch them take their first breath, help them navigate the challenges of old age or treat any health issue in between, we form a strong bond with those for whom we care.

The desire to be a vital part of a community, to help people of all ages and all walks of life is what led most of us to choose family medicine. Thirty years ago, it was that desire that motivated my wife, Debbie, and me to move from our college town of Columbia, Mo., back to our small hometown of Mountain Grove, Mo. We made it our mission to improve medical care in our community, a mission that has turned into a lifelong endeavor.

What began as a solo practice has expanded to include two locations and half a dozen family physicians and eventually merged with Mercy Clinic in Springfield, Mo. I have held leadership roles of increasing responsibility at Mercy and am currently serving as vice president of regional operations with oversight of five hospitals, 90 clinics, and more than 200 physicians and advanced practitioners. I continue to have an active family medicine practice in Mountain Grove. I look forward to bringing my experience in both the business and clinical sides of health care to my new role at the AMA.

As physician organizations, the AMA and the AAFP have many challenges and goals in common, and it is important that we work together.

Advocacy at all levels of government is critical. We must ensure that our elected leaders and federal and state agencies understand the physician perspective as new laws and regulations are developed and implemented. Expect us to renew calls for your help on issues such as implementing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), curbing opioid abuse, and expanding telemedicine legislation.

For example, both the AMA and AAFP have called for flexibility for solo physicians and small group practices under the new MACRA regulations. These practices play a critical role in our health care delivery system, especially in rural areas, so we must ensure that they are not negatively affected by onerous new regulations.

I also look forward to bringing the perspective of family physicians to the AMA's three areas of strategic focus. Our involvement in tackling the following critical challenges in health care will have a strong, lasting impact on our patients and our profession.

Improving health outcomes -- The AMA is working to prevent common chronic diseases that exact a heavy toll on the lives of millions. Our goal is to bring an end to type 2 diabetes and heart disease by identifying and addressing two precursors to these diseases: prediabetes and hypertension. With partners such as the CDC, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, the AMA is working to raise awareness of these chronic conditions and to encourage patients and physicians to take action to prevent the precursors from progressing to more serious illnesses.

Family physicians are natural partners in these prevention efforts. We are often the first point of contact a person has with the health care system, and we can provide ongoing assistance to patients in managing these conditions.

Creating the medical school of the future -- As I often tell young physicians, simply being an excellent clinician isn't always sufficient to provide the quality care our patients need and expect. Today's physician must have an understanding of health systems science, a new discipline, and must know how to find, access and apply incredible amounts of data and information. The AMA is working with a consortium of 32 medical schools to update the century-old medical curriculum to meet the needs of 21st century patients.( All specialties, including family medicine, will benefit from having their future colleagues trained in this way.

Physician satisfaction and practice sustainability -- Burnout among physicians of all specialties has been a topic of concern recently, and the AMA is working to provide the appropriate tools and support to help with the challenges of practicing medicine today. We plan to continue to broaden the conversation this year to hear from physicians about their needs and their anxieties.

Regardless of the challenges we face, I encourage my fellow physicians to remember it is our great privilege to serve others. Although we do face obstacles, we can overcome them by working together. I look forward to joining forces with the AAFP on many areas of mutual concern and to serving our patients and our fellow physicians in the days to come.

David Barbe, M.D., has served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2009, including a term as chair from June 2013 to June 2014.