2012 Spring Conference: Relationships Matter

Tuesday, May 01, 2012 01:22 PM
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How making the most of our relationships can help physicians advocate for their patients and their profession

Susan Burke, CMS contributor

For award-winning journalist and author Michael Weisskopf, good relationships meant becoming the first journalist wounded in war to be treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

For Cory Carroll, MD, they meant getting the time to sit quietly with a state legislator and have a thoughtful discussion about important issues. And for Dave Ross, MD, they provide the chance to make a difference – to shape the future of medicine and create a health care system that works better for patients.

Whether forged with soldiers in Iraq, a candidate for elected office or a key Colorado legislator, relationships matter. That was the message that surfaced time and again from Weisskopf, Carroll, Ross and several other speakers during this year’s Colorado
Medical Society Spring Conference, held last month at the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail.

Titled “Lead, Follow or Wander,” the conference reinforced the need for physicians to build relationships and engage in advocacy and gave them the expert advice to do so. It’s a call that is particularly urgent as Colorado and the country see changes due to the federal Affordable Care Act, state laws, private payer policies and new patient demographics. (See page 11 for more on the ACA and the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision, and the following pages for other updates).

“It all starts with you because, perhaps now more than ever, it is a time for physician engagement and level-headed leadership in Colorado health care,” CMS President-elect Jan Kief, MD, told the audience. “We are all in this together and it’s important to recognize that despite the unknown of the Supreme Court’s impending ruling on the health care reform law and the discomfort that health reform is likely causing in many of your practices these days, there is no better time than now to recommit, stay engaged and learn as much as you can so that we can stay unified and make good choices in this new reality.”

The 2012 election cycle provides the perfect opening for doctors to get involved. Colorado is a key swing state in the presidential race, and there are 33 open seats in the next Colorado legislature due to the redistricting process, as well as term limits and attrition. The timing provides a once-in-a-decade opportunity for physicians to exert their influence and support candidates who champion the advancement of health care and patient safety.

View from the trenches
Weisskopf, a veteran journalist for Time magazine, led the panel discussion on the value of relationships.

Weisskopf was covering the war in Iraq for Time in 2003 when a grenade dropped in front of him in the Humvee he was riding in along with a Time photographer and four soldiers. Weisskopf picked up the grenade and threw it out, saving himself and the others in the Humvee but losing his right hand. A medic from another Humvee came to his aid, applying a life-saving tourniquet. Back in the United States, colleagues and friends reached out to contacts at the Pentagon, a U.S. senator and, eventually, the Secretary of the Army, to get Weisskopf admitted to Walter Reed.

“It’s called teamwork in the Army, but it’s professional relationships,” said Weisskopf, who later wrote the book Blood Brothers about his coverage of the Iraq war and his recovery alongside fellow amputees at Walter Reed.

“Iraq was defining and searing as anything I’ve ever experienced. It taught me resourcefulness and relationships, and not the relationships you would expect.”

Carroll’s experience was more local – inside his own home, actually. Carroll, a former Larimer County Medical Society president, first got involved in politics because he wanted to make sure a physician’s voice was at the table. Colorado Medical Society helped Carroll put on a fundraiser for a candidate at his home – an event that was very well received, he said.

“Having physicians and legislators in my home provided the quiet setting for getting the chance to discuss the issues in depth,” Carroll said.

The relationships he has established over the years have lead to respectful friendships and sharing of perspectives on local issues, Carroll added. He encouraged other doctors to get to know their local candidates and hold an event of their own.

CMS President Brent Keeler, MD, offered to sit down and discuss health care issues with a patient who was interested in running for the state legislature – creating a mutually beneficial relationship that allowed both of them to leverage their talents and interests to be politically effective. Stephen Sherick, MD, meanwhile, began his involvement in politics by attending local meetings. He then got nominated to committees. Now, Sherick has gotten to know pivotal contacts and has access to elected officials.

Ross, the chairman of the Colorado Medical Political Action Committee, or COMPAC, told the audience politics doesn’t have to be intimidating. It starts small, by supporting the people who have supported you, he said.

“I’m interested in politics because it’s about taking care of the patient and what is best for them and the future of medicine,” Ross said. “It’s our responsibility and our legacy to leave the world a little better. I’m worried about the future of health care. We have a chance to make a difference. Our challenge is to reach out to those who aren’t involved and get them involved.”

How to “do it right”
Joe Gagen, who has been involved professionally in political and legislative matters for more than 30 years and does advocacy training around the country, echoed those sentiments.

Gagen kicked off a training session with the well-known Tip O’Neill quote: “All politics is local.” And physicians, Gagen added, have a unique opportunity to exert their professional position in the local community to both persuade and influence.

But there is a right way and a wrong way, Gagen said. Among his many suggestions on how to “do it right” were:

  • Support your local lawmaker early and often in his or her career. If you are a friendly face when the candidate is running for office for the first time, that legislator is unlikely to ever forget you. Also, keep in mind that relationship building is a year-round effort. It doesn’t start when the legislative session does, and it doesn’t end when the session is over.
  • Don’t underestimate your influence. In 2005, the Congressional Management Foundation asked Congressional staffers: “If your member/senator has not already arrived at a firm decision on an issue, how much influence might the following advocacy strategies directed to the Washington office have on his/her decision?” In-person visits from constituents scored highest, with 60 percent of staffers saying those visits had “a lot of influence.” Only 15 percent said the same thing about visits from lobbyists.
  • Remember that lawmakers are incredibly busy. During a recent legislative session, one state senator’s office reported 1,300 phone calls, 600 visitors, 1,800 letters, 6,000 emails and 300 invitations, Gagen said. This makes it even more important that when you have your legislator’s ear, you use the time wisely: Be prompt and keep your message simple.
  • Tell stories. Gagen called this “the most important rule of all.” Whether you’re testifying before a legislative committee or sitting in a lawmaker’s office, share your personal experiences or the experiences of a patient.

You may view the full slides from Gagen’s presentation, as well as other presentations from the Spring Conference, at www.cms.org.

If you are interested in getting involved politically, Colorado Medical Society has tools and resources to help. Contact Chris Lines, CMS director of political education and advocacy at Chris_Lines@cms.org or (720) 858-6315.

A Former Legislator’s 10 “Ps” to Effective Advocacy

Be professional: The Capitol is a building of dignity. Business attire is expected.
Be prompt: Seconds are valuable. Scheduling may be so tight that you only have a few minutes. Some Senators schedule their office visits before 6 a.m. because that is the only available time in the day.
Be persuasive: Do your homework and confidently state your case. Your may be the only one in the state who knows what you do.
Be patient: Good legislation takes a long time - that’s how unintended consequences are avoided.
Be positive: Your legislator wants to solve problems. Offer positive suggestions. Whining is not becoming.
Be polite: Courtesy implies respect.
Be our partners: Partners are vested in the outcome and share the responsibility. You are the best resource for your legislator.
Be personal: Invest time in developing a personal relationship with your legislator. Everyone wants to help their friends.
Be passionate: Be sure it’s a critical issue – one about which you are passionate - before you ask your legislator to “go to battle” for you. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
Be precise: Ultimately, the legislator wants to know how he can help you. Make your requests as specific as possible.

- From Joe Gagen’s Spring Conference presentation, titled “The Rules and Realities of Physician Engagement”

Posted in: Colorado Medicine | Initiatives | Advocacy


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