Washington needs to involve more doctors in policymaking
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Depending on who you ask in Washington, a fix to the nation’s troubled health care system is either just around the corner, or nowhere in sight. Like so many issues plaguing our country today, there is no middle ground. Differing proposals from opposite sides of the political spectrum and conflicting information are the source of the fundamental disconnect regarding healthcare playing out on Capitol Hill and in communities nationwide. As the arguments continue following the March 24 failure of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), it seems that no one in Washington has a clue of how to define the problem, much less solve it.

While the Freedom Caucus claims to be nearing an agreement on legislation that its members and moderate Republicans can support, it is doubtful that any action taken will be bipartisan. We should recall that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was also passed on a straight party-line vote – with no Republicans supporting ObamaCare.

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Most would argue that despite all the rhetoric and fierce debate, health care should not be a partisan issue, or even a political one in the first place.

 

Why are people looking to Washington to fix the health care system? Why are politicians the ones offering ideas, crunching numbers, and debating the merits of something most know little, or even anything about? Of course, laws and regulations are needed to institute a system that is fair and effective, but perhaps we are looking in the wrong place for ideas to fix the problem.

Hence, we must ask ourselves – where are the doctors?

While the newly appointed secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a doctor and there are some physicians in Congress, it seems that something peculiar happens when doctors come to Washington – they transform into politicians. It is not just a phenomenon with medical professionals, most Capitol Hill staff members can relate to the constant stream of company and association representatives that join various fly-ins. Rather than offering the local, on the ground perspective that Washington needs to hear, participants start talking politics and end up doing a disservice to the very advocacy position they were attempting to represent in the first place.

To fix the deteriorating health care system, we should look to those who are on the front lines every day. We should ask the doctors about their experiences and ideas, outside of their political opinions.

Any strategic communications advisor will tell you that for a message to have credibility, it must be supported by evidence, action, and most importantly, be delivered by a trusted source. Who better than doctors (the kind that take care of patients) to address the heath care issues that influence them professionally, and their patients (all of us) personally.

Dr. Andrew Gurman, president of the American Medical Association, wrote in a March 1 blog:

Health system reform will remain a major focus of our work in 2017, because, as physicians, we stand in a unique position to advocate for our patients to ensure that the progress already achieved in coverage gains and increased access to care are not pulled out from under their feet. Whether advocating for our patients in the House of Medicine or before your elected officials in the Halls of Congress, I urge you to be an active voice in the health reform debate in our country today.

Gurman should go a step further to help these physicians move beyond just “being an active voice” to effectively communicating the realities they face in their exam rooms day in and day out. This unique perspective is something that can create real solutions. 

With the current system, and proposed fixes to it, there are more entities involved in health care decisions than anyone wants to admit. These bureaucratic and business challenges get in the way of the medical care that patients need and physicians want to provide. If the medical community could unite around this message of prioritizing patient care, reforms that allow doctors to focus on producing good health outcomes, not spending unnecessary time filling out paperwork and fighting with insurance companies, would be the natural result.

The solution to the health care problem will not come from Washington, D.C. Instead, once the voices of practicing physicians are unified, roadblocks that inhibit care and wellness can start to be removed. By focusing on what is medically necessary as decided by the doctor and patient, instead of what the insurance or government mandates, the health care crisis can be resolved in a unifying, bipartisan way.

The first step is for physicians to start communicating effectively – advocating for their patients and their profession. They have the credibility, trust, and a winning message – a surefire prescription for success.

We look to doctors to solve problems all the time – and many times they are successful. We can’t say the same thing about politicians. 

Dan Rene is a senior vice president in the public affairs practice at the strategic communications firm, LEVICK.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.