By Marilyn Heine, MD
Note: Over the coming weeks, PAMED members will share why they have a passion for advocacy. Part 1 of this series features Marilyn Heine, MD, FACP, FACEP, who practices Hematology/Oncology at Regional Hematology Oncology Associates, Langhorne, Pa. and Emergency Medicine in Montgomery County. Dr. Heine is also chair of the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and a former PAMED President.
In the 1990s, emergency-room doctors often had the "very unsettling" experience of treating patients who had delayed care, fearing that insurance wouldn't cover the visit. Dr. Heine joined successful efforts to insert prudent-layperson language into health care legislation at the state and federal levels.
"It was a significant advance for patients and for the delivery of care in a timely manner," she said.
State lawmakers were "less than receptive" when Dr. Heine initially went on legislative visits, but she eventually prevailed. During the prudent-layperson campaign, she met with a specific Congress member in his office, on the street days later, and at different events.
"You can't just go and relay a message and expect that mountains will move," Dr. Heine said. "You have to keep educating."
There are three Rs to follow, she says:
1. Keep it on the lawmaker's Radar,
2. Build cordial and professional Relationships, and
3. Keep it Real by sharing real-life stories.
"Professional lobbyists can talk about policy, but they can't talk about the patient you saw last Tuesday," Dr. Heine said.
Be the "go-to" person for lawmakers' questions about health issues and make clear requests, such as asking the lawmaker to co-sponsor a bill or vote a certain way. Afterwards, send a thank-you note.
Educating colleagues on the issues is just as important as educating policymakers, she notes. Get involved in campaigns, and invite colleagues for meet-and-greets with candidates.
"Lawmakers are engaged in public service," Dr. Heine said. "Meeting with constituents is part of what they need to do to stay in office. We need to show that we appreciate the challenges they have in advancing through the election cycle. There's no quid pro quo, but this is recognition that someone is our friend."
Involvement in PAMPAC and AMPAC, the political action committees of PAMED and the AMA will help physicians learn the ins and outs of political engagement.
Legislation impacts the practice of medicine, affecting everything from access to paying off student debt.
"We can go to the finest training programs and learn the most sophisticated techniques, but if a law is passed that impedes our ability to deliver health care, (that function) could be eroded," Dr. Heine said. "You went to medical school to deliver care for patients, but other things can intrude. You want to make sure they are minimized and you can focus on your goal, which is to be the best physician possible."
This post originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Physician Magazine. It is republished with permission. The opinions expressed are those of Dr. Heine and not necessarily those of the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine.