If you speak to any advocate for rheumatology, each of us has an “Aha! moment,” when we learned the importance of advocacy. My own came a dozen years ago. I was meeting with a legislative aide to a local congressman who was a senior member of the committee overseeing Medicare. He introduced himself as the “point man for healthcare” for the congressman.
I began by saying, “I am a rheumatologist”—blank stare. I then explained what a rheumatologist is, the diseases we treat and the kind of patients we see (a high percentage of 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. Blank stare. I educated him on the differences in cognitive and procedure care, and why we do not garner the high incomes seen by our procedure-based colleagues.
This experience showed me just how important advocacy is for my patients, my practice and for my specialty. My experience revealed the limited medical knowledge of decision makers in Washington, D.C.
Additional visits have also taught me that many people 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. On one visit, I explained cognitive vs. procedure care to senate healthcare legislative staff—and they actually remembered me and the lesson from the meeting two years previously.
We all need to have our “Aha! moment,” during which we realize the importance of standing up to speak 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 “Aha! moment” and become an active advocate.
Chris Morris, MD, is a rheumatologist at Arthritis Associates in Kingsport, Tenn.
You Can Be an Advocate, Too!
- Write, call or email your members of Congress. As a constituent, your opinions matter to those who are elected to represent you. Speak up, and let them know how you feel about the important issues facing rheumatology. Visit the ACR Legislative Action Center for more information on contacting your lawmakers.
- Schedule an in-district meeting with your members of Congress. Meeting face to face with your legislators and their staff provides you the opportunity to educate them on the issues and helps you build and strengthen relationships.
- Be sure to involve your patients and staff; they are also constituents. Help spread the word by asking your patients and staff to share their experiences with members of Congress.