If you speak to any advocate for rheumatology, each of us will tell you we’ve had an “a-ha” moment where we learned the importance of advocacy; my own came a dozen years ago. I was meeting with a legislative aide to a local Congressional representative who was a senior member of the committee overseeing Medicare. He introduced himself as the “point man for healthcare” for the representative.
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I began by saying “I am a rheumatologist.” In return I got a blank stare, so I explained what a rheumatologist is, the diseases we treat and the kind of patients we see—a high percentage of whom are Medicare patients. When he began to discuss my being a specialist, like a cardiologist, I commented that although I am a medical specialist, rheumatology is a cognitive-care specialty. In return, I got another blank stare. So I educated him about the differences between cognitive and procedure care—and why we do not garner the high incomes received by our procedure-based colleagues.
This experience showed me just how important advocacy is for my patients, for my practice, for my specialty. My experience revealed the limited medical knowledge of decision makers in D.C.
Additional visits have also taught me how much many in D.C. actually want to learn about healthcare issues from someone other than a professional lobbyist working for an insurance carrier or pharmaceutical firm. During one visit, I explained cognitive vs. procedure care to several healthcare legislative aides in a senator’s office, and when I returned two years later, they actually remembered me and my lesson!
We all need to have our “a-ha” moment, during which we realize the importance of standing up and speaking for our patients and our specialty. We must find our advocacy voices, because no one else will speak for us on Capitol Hill. Complacency leads to silence; silence leads to decline. Our patients deserve the best rheumatologic care; if our specialty fails, then we fail our patients. Find your own “a-ha” moment; become an active advocate. Not sure where to start? Check out the ACR’s Advocacy Tools and Resources page.
Chris Morris, MD, is a rheumatologist at Arthritis Associates in Kingsport, Tenn.