Colorado Medical Society

Cover: Stepping up in our role as Guardians of the Medical Galaxy

Thursday, November 01, 2018 12:00 PM

I have come to recognize that there is no one better than physicians to take charge of the health and health care of our fellow Coloradans. That is why I chose the Guardians of the Medical Galaxy as our Annual Meeting theme and the theme for my presidency.

In the cosmic scheme of things, our profession is the gravitational force that can restore wisdom and stability to health care. Despite the disruptions – “intergalactic” pacts and consolidations and “inter-species” tensions – it is our profession that can restore and preserve an orbit that assures that the care we give our patients lands them on the right planet at the right time. And it is our community of physicians that can steer our organizations to provide the necessary support that restores and preserves the joy of practicing medicine.

Notwithstanding the cutting-edge technologies and scientific advances that could have been lifted right off the pages of a science fiction script, all of our care is delivered to one patient at a time. As all physicians understand, it is both art and science. What we do as a medical society is harness that expertise and compassion into collective actions. Together, your ideas and our ideas have consequences. We are not in a zero-gravity environment. When others push, we push back as a profession.

The mission of the Colorado Medical Society is to “champion health care issues that improve patient care, promote physician professional satisfaction and create healthier communities.” To that end, as your 2018-2019 president, I am committed to fighting to reverse the opioid epidemic that is devastating thousands of lives and communities; I am committed to maintaining and strengthening the body of law governing professional peer review; and I am steadfast in addressing the lack of joy in our colleagues and the burnout in our profession. I invite you to join me and your governing board of directors in fighting these assaults on our patients and our profession.

Mitigating the opioid epidemic

One such assault is the opioid epidemic. When Gov. John Hickenlooper launched a task force to attack the massive opioid crisis, we assembled a panel of “been-there-doing-that” experts. These physician experts continue to work with the governor’s highly regarded Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse and Prevention as well as the legislative Interim Committee to guide Colorado state policy on opioid use disorder, all the while assuring access to compassionate evidence-based care for our patients who suffer from acute and chronic pain. Through CMS’s committee on Prescription Drug Abuse, a multi-specialty convening on opioid use disorder assembled in early October. Read more about this convening on page 16.

I, personally, am deeply concerned with the staggering statistics of opioid deaths and addiction, which is why I developed an opioid clock tool during my fellowship with the Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership that was featured in the September/October issue of Colorado Medicine and is available to view online at

This is a dynamic informational tool to educate the lay public, affected individuals, health professionals and legislators on the causes and solutions of the opioid crisis. The tool can be used, with confidence, by anyone – from the uninitiated to the topic expert – to spread the knowledge of how we got here and what we are doing to reverse the crisis. This is a daunting, seemingly intractable, problem and the opioid clock is still ticking.

Protecting professional peer review

In 2019, the 100 members of the Colorado General Assembly will launch the equivalent of a “massive meteor shower” of amendments that could “punch a thousand holes” in the laws governing medical licensure, malpractice liability and peer review. Legislators will get pulled in opposite directions depending on whose turn it is to talk about the “flight path” of, say, raising the damage cap on a malpractice suit or breaching a peer review report.

We have once again assembled leading real-world medical experts to respond to and advise our leadership. These experts will also serve to educate the public officials charged with the legislative responsibility to debate, amend and re-enact this vital composition of laws that assure professional accountability and public and patient safety.

Prioritizing physician wellbeing

The literature confirms that physician burnout has reached a crisis stage. Under the guidance of the CMS Committee on Physician Wellbeing, we are prioritizing Colorado physician wellbeing by highlighting, emphasizing and promoting solutions to enhance both wellbeing and joy in the practice of medicine. We will specifically focus on organizational interventions to mitigate unnecessary burdens that bring no value to patients and destroy the morale of our physicians. Additionally, we will advocate for public policies and educate on evidence-based personal wellbeing strategies which round out the three domains of physician wellbeing.

Addressing the high cost of health care

When the business leaders of Colorado launched a sweeping effort this year to develop cost and utilization reform, we brought our extensive experience on system reforms. While others continue to bicker and resist, we have brought thoughtful ideas of what works. What the business community brings to the legislature will also incorporate our ideas regarding administrative burdens, a significant contribution to unnecessary expense and waste.

I again ask, in the coming “intergalactic wars,” who but organized medicine is best suited to guard our medical galaxy? We will be there, bringing the credibility and strength of physician expertise into this world of political advocacy.

Engaging in your medical society

We methodically screen and brief candidates and incumbents on our priorities, our concerns and our patients’ needs. There are no shortcuts to political engagement. Local relationships are pivotal and grassroots work generates the strength.

Like politics, all care is local. This year, in addition to invaluable member-wide surveys and Central Line activities, our face-to-face member outreach will include regional organizational conversations that bring our communities into the same “orbit,” matching our experts with your colleagues where they live and work and, by no coincidence, where those legislators and other influencers of this process also live and work. Central Line brings “on-line” thoughts, opinions and ideas in consequential alignment with the leading physician subject-matter experts and incubates their insights at the grassroots.

We are organized, thoughtful, deliberative and fully armed to be the Guardians of our Medical Galaxy. It is my honor and privilege to be a part of this guardianship. My ask of you, my colleagues and friends, is to stay on this course of engagement in the public policy space, to reach out and support each other and bring your ideas, wisdom, insights, and concerns to us.

I am deeply grateful to all physician members and leaders of the Colorado Medical Society, including Dr. Bob Yakely, who mentored me during my year as president-elect. I also recognize my support system of family and friends who have encouraged me to seek this office, especially my husband Dave Downs – the love of my life, world’s best life partner and CMS past president – who always challenges me to go further.