By Dr. Megan Edison, pediatrician in private practice in Michigan. You can follow Dr. Edison on Twitter @megedison
This is my fourth election cycle with an active social media presence, and this year more than most I am dismayed at the amount of time and energy everyday folks devote to federal politics. It’s frustrating to me because the average voter has little influence on federal politics, and it’s also a testimony to how lopsided our system has become when federal matters occupy our minds daily. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the power, politics, money, and corruption found at the federal level of politics and disengage altogether.
I see similar behavior in physicians all the time when it comes to organized medicine. This past weekend, I attended the Direct Primary Care conference in Texas. It was full of smart young doctors, all with a passion for free market medicine and creating a better care system for doctors and patients. Part of the discussion was how crucial state legislation is to open up free markets by repealing “certificate of need” laws, allowing doctors to dispense low cost and free prescriptions from their offices, creating “Ordering and Referring” status for Medicaid, and clarifying Direct Primary Care as not being an insurance product subject to insurance regulation. Yet, every time I asked a doctor in attendance if they were involved in their medical society, the answer was a resounding “NO.”
Over and over I heard the same thing: The AMA doesn’t represent us, the AMA is irrelevant, the AMA is corrupt. The same thing for the national specialty societies: The American Academy of Family Medicine doesn’t get it, the American College of Physicians is out of touch, the American Board of Pediatrics is too busy on political issues. “But wait,” I’d ask…”I’m talking about your STATE and COUNTY medical societies.” Blank stares.
We often hear “all politics is local” and this is incredibly true in medicine. When I talk about organized medicine, I’m not talking about the AMA, AOA, or for students, AMSA. I’m not talking about national specialty societies. These organizations are the equivalent of the federal government: unwieldy, archaic, entrenched, and increasingly irrelevant. I’m talking about your state medical societies, working at the state level with incredible influence to either make local practice of medicine a blessing or a living hell.
We can see the awesome work of the Michigan State Medical Society supporting the Direct Primary Care legislation of Senator Pat Colbeck, and the Oklahoma State Medical Association supporting the MOC legislation (“right to care”) of Representative Mike Ritze. The Direct Primary Care Conference in Texas was in collaboration with the Texas Medical Association! State medical societies can bring about significant positive change for physicians and patients, and they’re a whole heck of a lot easier to get involved with.
So where do you start? It’s not as flashy or cool as national medical politics, but you start local. Students should first check with their medical schools. There is often a student section of the state medical society. Ask to get involved! You can also bypass the student section if it’s either full or not active. Just call up your county medical society, introduce yourself as a student and ask how you can be involved. Most states still have a “House of Delegates,” where county medical societies send the allotted number of delegates and alternate delegates to the state meeting. There are usually open spots for willing docs, and sometimes students. They may even let students tag along just to watch without any official delegate status.
If the county medical staff isn’t receptive, figure out who is on the board of directors, see if you recognize any of them from your rotations and call those docs directly and ask if you can be mentored in the process. Sign up, attend caucus meetings, and watch the process of writing resolutions and defending them at the House of Delegates. Maybe consider writing your own resolutions on issues of DPC, CON, MOC, Step2CS, Medicaid Ordering & Referring Status, prescription drug dispensing for physicians, if a policy isn’t already in place. There are plenty of us willing to help in the writing process. Then, follow through on those resolutions to see if state legislation or other state action results.
Some counties have legislative committees where local politicians meet with physicians to discuss policy issues. Get on those committees, listen and learn.
If all 265 physician and student attendees at the the Direct Primary Care meeting were to engage with local organized medicine, we would see some incredible change within our state societies. If we want to see the necessary state legislation pass, we absolutely have to engage our state medical societies. We simply cannot pass free market medicine legislation without their support. Our involvement is crucial. Who knows, if we’re diligent and patient, maybe someday we’ll even start seeing positive change and relevance in our national organizations as well.