Thank you for the tremendous honor of serving as ACR president. Given that this is my first column, I’d like to briefly introduce myself, outline a few of the challenges that we will face in 2012, and ask for your help in advancing rheumatology this next year. Only with the help and combined wisdom of our volunteers, members, and staff will we continue to thrive.
With considerable excitement, anticipation, humility, and, with more than a little anxiety, I begin my term as ACR president. It’s a privilege to serve as president of what I am sure I very objectively consider the premier medical subspecialty society, one of the very few in which clinicians in private practice, academicians, and researchers have stuck together under one organizational roof. This unity has been and will continue to be essential in keeping us strong (more on that throughout the year).
Sitting at the head of the table of our wonderful and very diverse organization is a humbling experience—no one person can hope to posses the knowledge and wisdom to understand all the nuances and future implications of the complex issues that we face. Fortunately for the ACR, Mark Andrejeski continues to assemble a truly remarkable staff in Atlanta, and our sagacious nominations committee has continued to assure that remarkable volunteers are in place on the board of directors and as committee chairs and committee members.
I am based at the University of Nebraska in Omaha and the Omaha VA medical centers, where I have been for the last 27 years. I have been director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program for all those years and division chief of rheumatology for more than 20 years. I have directed a research group, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Investigational Network (RAIN), since 1989. This group is mainly composed of rheumatologists in private practice, and hopefully helps keep me clinically grounded. My formal involvement with ACR committees began in 1992 as a member of the Committee on Rheumatologic Care (CORC), and through the years I have chaired, served on, or been liaison to, all but three of our standing committees. I have been on the Board of Directors of both the ACR Research and Education Foundation and the ACR, served as president of the REF, and been a member of the ACR Executive Committee for seven years.
During this time, I feel truly blessed to have been exposed to remarkable leaders on both the volunteer and staff sides. Through all this I have accumulated vast experience with the organization and, hopefully, at least a modicum of wisdom that will allow me to continue to assure that we have the right people involved. I feel well qualified to lead in the areas of research, education, and training, but am obviously less experienced in the areas that affect our private practice membership and therefore will seek the wise counsel of my private practice colleagues on the Executive Committee, Board of Directors, CORC (chaired by Charles King, MD), and Affiliate Society Council (chaired by Angus Worthing, MD).
May We Live (and Lead) in Interesting Times
They say timing is everything, so I’m truly blessed to be ACR president during what promises to be a very interesting year. During this coming election year, the economy will continue to dominate the national political landscape in the United States, but healthcare will remain a critical central issue for the country and the economy. With the threat of the Sustainable Growth Rate and its cuts continuing to hang heavily over our heads, insurance companies increasingly telling us what to do directly or through their Tier 4 policies, and the growing demands on increasingly underpaid practitioners to document that they are providing quality service, I believe rheumatologists and other physicians who rely on E/M billing are at a critical crossroads. The economic crisis in particular presents huge challenges, but also offers unique and important opportunities.
It is a humbling experience to sit at the head of the table of our wonderful and very diverse organization—no one person can hope to posses the knowledge and wisdom to understand all the nuances and future implications of the complex issues that we face.
In less than one year, in November of 2012, we will assemble for our next annual meeting in Washington, D.C., a few short days after what promises to be a pivotal election for the future of healthcare in the U.S. I do not believe healthcare should be a political issue and, therefore, do not believe that we, as rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals, or our patients will necessarily be better served by turning the country blue or red. I do believe we must redouble our efforts to make our voices heard and to elect officials who understand or can be made to understand the healthcare issues of Americans and the evaluation-and-management–based physicians who care for them. We need rheumatologists to be engaged in the political process by meeting with elected officials and building relationships. If you haven’t visited, called, or e-mailed your elected officials, learn how during this important election year. The ACR needs to continue to build on the political relationships we have established over several years. I have visited the Hill numerous times and now have a relationship with several members of Congress from Nebraska. I also strongly support the ACR’s political action committee RheumPAC, which has continued to grow each year and has opened many doors for the ACR.