Who Speaks for Doctors?
As a physician, I found myself both heartened and frustrated by President Obama's speech before the American Medical Association.
In asking people to see past labels like "socialized medicine" and "government-run health care," the President reminded us that the struggle for health reform is fundamentally about the challenges faced by every day Americans -- their struggle to stay healthy and cope with illness with dignity and respect. In a time when the airwaves are filled with caricatures and talking points, this was a welcome and refreshing reminder for politicians and the public.
I was equally struck, however, by the President's appeal to physicians for help. "I need your help, doctors" he said. Making such an appeal before the American Medical Association seemed logical. Yet doctors across the country watching that same scene felt frustrated. I heard from hundreds of them, which leads me to believe there were many thousands more.
Increasing numbers of physicians do not see the AMA as their representatives. Less than 20 percent of physicians are AMA members and most of these physicians are not politically engaged. Furthermore, many physicians feel the organization has focused narrowly on representing physicians' pocketbook interests while doing little to advance the patient-centered ideals that continue to drive many physicians.
If the AMA doesn't adequately represent physicians, then to whom should legislators be talking? The answer is they should be speaking directly with physicians in communities who are on the front lines of health care. This requires an investment of time and energy on the part of legislators and their staffs. It also requires physicians to be more politically engaged. The emergence of true grassroots physician groups in recent years is an encouraging sign as these groups represent more direct channels for connecting physicians and legislators. For the sake of real health reform, I hope we see more such dialogue in the future.
Posted by: shareenjoshi | June 22, 2009 12:32 PM
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