With only 15 practicing rheumatologists in the state, members of West Virginia’s Rheumatology (WVR) Society knew early on they needed a stronger voice to help their patients.
So WVR Society President Suzanne Gharib, MD, joined West Virginia’s state medical society, comprising physicians from a range of specialties.
“It turns out our state medical society was eager to understand the rheumatology perspective [because] legislation impacting our specialty frequently comes up for discussion,” Dr. Gharib explains.
Recently, the WVR Society’s collaborative alliance with the state medical society has paid off.
Bridging expertise between the WVR Society, the ACR’s legislative experts and the West Virginia state medical society, Dr. Gharib was able to facilitate a language change in a biosimilar substitution bill to include a five-day notification requirement.
“This was a big win for our patients,” Dr. Gharib says. She explains that nimble action to share communication between these stakeholders was behind the win.
Collaborating to Improve Care
This collaborative approach between West Virginia’s state rheumatology and medical societies is a model of communication these players have been refining over the past three years.
“We have previously worked together in a similar way on improving step therapy legislation, and we are working now on legislation to address better transparency with PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers],” she says. “This works because we have similar interests to advance patient care in our state, so our state medical society has been very receptive to advocate our interests.”
Making It Happen
Dr. Gharib thinks this collaborative approach would work for other small state rheumatology societies needing a stronger legislative voice. Here is her advice for making it happen:
- Establish a strong rheumatology society.
Don’t be discouraged by small numbers, she shares. “Our society began with three of us having dinner to discuss our challenges with so few of us handling so many patients across the state—it was a slow start to form our society, but through dedication, we made it happen.”
Today, the society includes rheumatologists from across West Virginia who work together to share education through an annual meeting and to address legislative work on an ongoing basis.
- Build strategic alliances with other physicians.
Agree on several key issues impacting your practices and your patients that you want to improve, Dr. Gharib suggests. With these goals outlined, she says this helps shape a clear message when reaching out to your state medical society leaders or others with legislative influence to demonstrate your knowledge and the value you can bring to their efforts.
- Stay connected with ACR legislative experts.
Ongoing communication between state rheumatologists and national ACR legislative experts is critical to get the correct language we need to legislators managing a bill up for discussion, Dr. Gharib says. When the biosimilar legislation draft was shared with the state medical society for her to review, she immediately sent the draft to ACR state legislative expert Joseph Cantrell, JD, who was able to suggest important additions regarding the five-day notification requirement.
- Keep reaching out and talking.
Give continuous thought to shared interests you can leverage to initiate new relationships and conversations, Dr. Gharib suggests. “We found that our concerns as rheumatologists were also concerns for other physician specialties, so collaborating with our state medical society was an effective way to fill these gaps and build our stronger voice together.”
- See the long-term value.
Cultivating these connections takes time and patience, she advises. “Don’t get discouraged if successes don’t come immediately—these efforts are about making connections that will [produce] long-term results and long-standing relationships that are strengthened over time.”
Connect with ACR senior manager of state affairs Joseph Cantrell.
Carina Stanton is a freelance science writer in Denver.