Physicians have a significant impact inside the exam room, where they can educate and engage their patients to take better care of themselves.
Outside the exam room, though, physician voices are too rarely heard by the legislators and regulatory agencies that set the standards and laws for patient care and social issues that affect patient populations. Instead, those regulations are often dictated by insurance companies, lobbyists and politicians who know little about the realities of healthcare delivery.
We’ve seen plenty of ramifications already, including poorly implemented electronic health record systems, restrictions on which options a physician can present to pregnant patients and regulatory bureaucracy that leads to inflated charges and inefficient staff workflows.
“There aren’t many physicians involved at a national level in some of the agencies that make patient-care policies,” says Gary Price, MD, a surgeon and president of The Physicians Foundation. “As a result, we’ve certainly had a lot of experience with healthcare solutions that were poorly informed and haven’t worked well.”
Physicians need to raise their voices and be heard, he says. “As our nation’s frustration with our healthcare system increases, I’m hopeful that everyone will start paying more attention to the physicians who are delivering the care. (From a business standpoint,) I don’t think they’ll be left with any choice.”
In the meantime, physicians can continue to find ways to advocate for their causes — even if those in power aren’t listening yet. “All physicians impact individual patients on a day-to-day basis,” says Anders Gilberg, senior vice president of government affairs with the Medical Group Management Association. “That’s what makes the profession so rewarding. And to the extent they have the time, energy and desire to do more, they can use their day-to-day experiences to try to improve the overall delivery of healthcare in this country.”
Bring your perspectives to policy discussions
Physicians are already seen as leaders in their communities. They’re highly educated and tuned in to what’s happening in healthcare, and they bring a unique perspective on the important issues of healthcare equity and delivery. Their voices are important in finding solutions, not only to patient care challenges, but also to other issues that impact the health of their populations, such as gun violence, poverty and even climate change.
Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, FACP, a primary care physician and executive director of the Indiana University National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, has worked with sex trafficking and abuse victims, survivors of accidents and other traumatized patients. She, like other physicians, understands the personal burden of disease and the importance of healthcare all too well. “Physicians can use those experiences and those personal stories to influence policy discussions,” she says.
Physicians can also provide factual evidence to balance political discussions, Gilberg notes. “So often politics is based on rhetoric and opinions. Physicians can bring real-life examples that can have a real impact. They’re honest brokers, and that’s important because they can help find middle ground where issues like healthcare can be polarizing.”