Patient-level and institution-level advocacy often come naturally to physicians and health professionals. This level of involvement is integral to providing the best care for patients. Interestingly, a 2006 JAMA study showed that physicians overwhelmingly rated political involvement and collective advocacy as important to their work as healthcare professionals, at 91.6% and 97.0%, respectively. In practice, however, only about a quarter of respondents in the study participated in either type of activity in the past three years.1
Part of SHM’s advocacy goal is to help hospitalists bridge the divide between their attitudes about political advocacy and their behavior.
Any number of barriers might exist for hospitalists to take action and participate in political action and health policy. Anecdotally, these range from a lack of comfort around the issues to lack of time to the opacity of the process to the unclear impact of individual efforts.
As a medical society, SHM serves a pivotal role in representing the views and perspectives of hospitalists in the health policy arena. Still, these efforts could be greatly intensified with more robust involvement from members. One tactic used by the society is advocacy action alerts that encourage members to engage directly with their elected representatives on policy issues of interest to hospitalists.
For example, a recent alert illustrated the potentially devastating impact of the impending budget sequester. As a budget-deficit and spending reduction mechanism, the budget sequester is poised to institute across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense spending. For its part, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will see an approximate 8.2% cut in its budget, removing critical money from health programs and research funding. These are programs and research efforts in which hospitalists participate.
The action alert culminates with a customizable message that can be easily sent to members of Congress. Quick and easy, the action alert allows SHM members to participate in advocacy efforts with very little time investment. By sending messages to Congress, SHM members are able to share their expertise and perspectives on health policy, as both health professionals and constituents.
The impact of a single message to Congress, of course, is not always clear or easily definable. Advocacy, unfortunately, does not often show immediate results and requires a nuanced, multifaceted, long-term strategy. However, input directly from constituents is consistently rated among the most influential tactics for influencing Congress, and that includes emails, phone calls and in-person visits.2
SHM will continue to ask members to join in its advocacy efforts and, at the next annual meeting, invites all members to partake in in-person visits with their members of Congress during Hospitalists on the Hill. Medicine is as much about the systems as it is the one-on-one interactions; politics is no different. By communicating and meeting with lawmakers one on one, SHM members will continue to have a meaningful impact on the policies that frame the healthcare system. Join us as we continue to grow these efforts.
For more information about Hospitalists on the Hill, visit www.hospitalmedicine2013.org/advocacy.
Joshua Lapps is SHM’s government relations specialist.
- Gruen RL, Campbell EG, Blumenthal D. Public roles of US physicians: community participation, political involvement, and collective advocacy. JAMA. 2006;296(20):2467-2475.
- The Partnership for A More Perfect Union at the Congressional Management Foundation. Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill. Congressional Management Foundation website. Available at: http://www.congressfoundation.org/projects/communicating-with-congress/perceptions-of-citizen-advocacy-on-capitol-hill. Accessed Nov. 1, 2012.