Because the ACR’s annual Advocates for Arthritis event and Advocacy 101 program will be fully virtual this year, engaged rheumatology advocates are more important than ever. Even without face-to-face meetings in Washington, D.C., rheumatology professionals and patients will be able to connect with members of Congress virtually on Sept. 14 and 15 to discuss key legislative issues that affect the rheumatology community.
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The ACR will offer a virtual Advocacy 101 program the day prior to Advocates for Arthritis to help participants better prepare for what they will do during the event. Bharat Kumar, MD, MME, FACP, RhMSUS, associate rheumatology fellowship program director, Division of Immunology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, is overseeing this year’s Advocacy 101 program. Kumar, also a member of the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee, shared with The Rheumatologist some highlights to expect from Advocacy 101.
Q: What is the Advocacy 101 program?
Advocacy 101 is the ACR’s training program for fellows in training, rheumatology program directors and ARP members who are passionate about advocacy and governance. It was established in 2015 with annual training sessions coinciding with the fall Advocates for Arthritis fly-in event. Advocacy 101 teaches participants how the federal government works, how rheumatologists and rheumatology professionals can become active and effective advocates for their interests, and how they can connect with local and state resources to continue advocating for their patients.
Q: What will Advocacy 101 participants learn?
Advocacy 101 covers three main domains. First, it covers how the federal government operates to prepare participants to actively engage with actors at the federal level. Second, it trains participants how to interact with legislators and others. Participants are taught the ins and outs of constituent meetings, how to communicate with staff members on Capitol Hill and principles of effective virtual advocacy. Last, Advocacy 101 participants are briefed on the issues that are near and dear to the rheumatology community, with in-depth discussions on billing and coding, insurance and regulations.
Q: What are the key advocacy issues this year for ACR/ARP members?
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. ACR/ARP members have helped lead the charge for more equitable reimbursement of rheumatologists and other cognitive specialists, as well as increased accessibility of rheumatology providers to populations that we serve. The ACR and its members have also been striving to sustain improvements to billing and coding from earlier years and increase funding for rheumatology research. During the ACR’s Advocates for Arthritis virtual Capitol Hill fly-in, rheumatology advocates will discuss telehealth and workforce issues critical to maintaining patient access to care during the pandemic and beyond.
Q: What are some skills presented during Advocacy 101 that may be challenging for physicians and rheumatology professionals?
Many physicians may be uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with government officials, especially if they have never had advocacy experiences before. Fortunately, most rheumatologists can become more comfortable with a little bit of training. After all, the principles of effective communication—respect, transparency and honesty—are essentially the same whether between a patient and doctor or a constituent and lawmaker. And, believe it or not, they’re as scared of you as you are of them.
Q: How will Advocacy 101 work differently this year due to the pandemic?
Advocacy 101 will be entirely virtual this year. There are two components. A set of pre-event modules provides background about advocacy and governance. Then an online Advocacy 101 social program further elaborates on this information and gives participants the opportunity to interact and learn from each other.
Q: How can ACR/ARP members use their Advocacy 101 training beyond the Advocates for Arthritis event?
Advocacy is a lifelong skill that is applicable to so many different contexts. Many Advocacy 101 graduates have become involved in the ACR through committee work and regular attendance at Advocates for Arthritis. Others have become more involved with state-level specialty societies and other professional organizations, such as the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Advocacy is a lot of fun. I promise. Advocacy is a great way to channel your enthusiasm and passion for making the world a better place. When we unite to solve problems together, we’re more likely to get things done.
Vanessa Caceres is a freelance medical writer in Bradenton, Fla.