AAOS Bulletin - April, 2006

DMLR gets national support for liability reform

Medical liability reform enjoys broad support among the American people, and national reform legislation has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. But a minority of senators, many of whom receive financial backing from the powerful personal injury lawyer lobby, have been able to prevent reform from even reaching the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote.

Physicians assemble in Washington, D.C., to show support for medical liability reform.

In its 2005 annual report, Getting the Nation Behind Us, Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR) outlined its nationwide grassroots recruitment and advocacy campaign to mobilize support for federal legislation that will address the crisis on a national level. The AAOS is a founding member of DMLR.

As AAOS Past President Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, who served this year as DMLR chair, said, “A strong, positive response to our 2005 activities gives us the momentum we need to seize the initiative in 2006: raising public awareness of the medical liability crisis, bringing reform to a vote in the U.S. Senate and making it a high-profile issue in our target states during the mid-term elections.”

Grassroots activism

The key to Getting the Nation Behind Us is grassroots activism. By mobilizing activists, arming them with the information they need and organizing them into an effective, coordinated campaign, DMLR aims to carry the message of medical liability reform to the American people and to the U.S. Congress.

The focus in 2005 was to identify, educate and recruit likely supporters. Highlights of DMLR accomplishments include:

• More than 23 million people heard radio interviews with doctors, which were broadcast 960 times on 813 stations.

• Almost 83,000 physicians, patients and concerned citizens received a mailing from DMLR educating them on the medical liability crisis and encouraging their support.

• An e-mail list of 84,000 people was compiled as part of an ongoing online recruitment, education and mobilization effort; an additional 70,000 e-mails were sent to rented lists.

• More than 24,600 unique visitors logged more than 173,000 total hits on the new Web site—www.ProtectPatientsNow.org—a sleek, user-friendly source of pertinent information and up-to-date news.

• A series of clever animations was created and distributed via the Internet. The animations were viewed more than 21,000 times.

• Online ads were displayed 16.7 million times.

• A compelling minidocumentary was produced for the Web on the medical liability crisis and the threat to patient access to care.

“As doctors, we don’t usually think of ourselves as activists,” said Dr. Weinstein. “But every day we are on the front lines of this crisis and see its effects on our specialties, our practices and our patients. That’s why we are becoming increasingly outspoken and are demanding a solution.

“At the same time we have many natural allies, including business owners, other health care providers and politically active/concerned citizens. Our greatest source of strength is the more than 295 million Americans whose health and well-being rely on continued access to quality medical care,” he concluded.

Who is the DMLR?

The DMLR is a national coalition of nine medical specialties representing more than 230,000 U.S. physicians who have come together to solve the medical liability crisis that is sweeping the nation and threatening patient access to quality health care. Members include:

• American Academy of Dermatology Association

• American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons

• American College of Cardiology

• American College of Emergency Physicians

• American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

• American College of Surgeons Professional Association

• American Society of Plastic Surgeons

• Neurosurgeons to Preserve Health Care Access

• Society of Thoracic Surgeons

Outreach efforts

During 2005, DMLR reached out to supporters in a number of ways, including radio media tours, media roundtable discussions, online advocacy efforts and direct mail.

On the airwaves, during morning and evening commutes, more than 23 million people listened as DMLR spokespeople fielded questions on medical liability reform in interviews broadcast over more than 800 radio stations.

A Capitol Hill roundtable discussion featured Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), Dr. Weinstein and Yale Law School professor George Priest. The event established DMLR as a resource for members of the press and built connections with elite opinion makers in Washington, D.C

DMLR Chairman Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, thanks President George W. Bush for his support for medical liability reform.

The resulting news story included a link to the redesigned Web site and generated an invitation from the American Enterprise Institute—one of the oldest and most respected think tanks in Washington, D.C.—for DMLR speakers to participate in a conference on medical liability reform planned for this spring.

Online advocacy enabled the DMLR to communicate with a grassroots network, react to news events and respond to attacks at a moment’s notice. Online capability also enabled the DMLR to target messages to specific audiences as it reached out to the broader public.

The DMLR used a combination of techniques—mass e-mails, eye-catching Internet ads, direct mail and radio broadcasts—to draw people to its fully remodeled Web site, www.ProtectPatientsNow.org. Boasting streamlined graphics, a user-friendly interface, innovative animation, streaming video and interactive capabilities, the site serves as an all-purpose nerve center for the grassroots campaign.

Drawn by creative animations and dramatic video, visitors are encouraged to contact members of Congress, sign a petition in support of reform and even donate to the cause. Doctors and patients are urged to join the effort to end medical lawsuit abuse, and links connect visitors to grassroots activities in their areas.

In just a few months, 24,682 unique visitors logged more than 173,000 hits on the site; 1,214 people signed the online petition; 684 people used the page to contact their senators and representatives, and 624 joined the effort.

Video and animation

A compelling documentary on the high personal cost of the medical liability crisis, The Crisis is Now, is available in streaming video on the DMLR Web site. A simple click brings up a professional-quality, 20/20-style news story in which doctors and patients share their heart-wrenching personal accounts, and an insightful narrative examines the causes of the crisis and the broader impact of living without liability reform.

The DMLR also invested in creative animations that entertain as they inform. Two animations satirizing personal injury lawyers getting rich at the expense of doctors’ careers and patients’ health were developed and e-mailed to 84,000 people. Approximately 30 percent of the recipients (almost 10 percent higher than the industry average) opened the e-mail, and an additional 6,000 people viewed the animation without e-mail prompts.

The animations are the most requested page on the DMLR Web site, as well as the most frequent entry page. Viewer response has been highly positive. Many chose to send the animations to friends, family and coworkers, creating momentum and support for the campaign.

Supplementing these online grassroots recruitment and advocacy campaigns, the DMLR reached out to physicians, patients and concerned citizens through an active direct-mail program. Almost 83,000 pieces were mailed, with Dr. Weinstein’s letter to patients/concerned citizens evoking an impressive 8 percent response (2 percent is considered high in direct mail). More than 1,600 people signed the DMLR petition.

Looking to the future

In 2006, the DMLR plans to increase its efforts on every front to pass liability reform in Congress. This election year is a prime opportunity to press for a vote in the Senate. Planned activities include:

• A state-targeted e-mail and letter-writing campaign

• Town hall meetings

• A Capitol Hill news conference announcing the result of the DMLR petition drive

• Candidate pledges

• Voter pledges

• Rallies

• Radio

• Direct mail

• Continued efforts using online advocacy capabilities

“The U.S. medical system is the finest in the world, but today it is under attack and in crisis,” said Dr. Weinstein. “As doctors, we are on the front lines of the crisis and see its harmful effects everyday, but it is patients who ultimately suffer the greatest harm.

“We have the American people on our side, and we have the tools to make their voices heard in Congress. Remember, we are only a handful of votes away from solving the liability crisis. Working together, we can and must succeed. The future of American health care depends on it.”

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