October 1998 Bulletin

Orthopaedists take part in political process

William W. Tipton, Jr., MD, Academy executive vice president, center, and William Fischer, MD, right, discuss health care with Wisconsin State Rep. Frank G. Lessee, left.

A convention hall filled with exhibitors ranging from State Farm Insurance to the National Rifle Association of America might seem like an unlikely place for orthopaedic surgeons to volunteer to spend part of their day.

But when the exhibit hall is also teeming with state legislators from across the country, it turns into one of the best places around for physicians to have an opportunity to talk one-on-one with elected officials.

For the orthopaedic surgeons who volunteer, the experience is usually a mixture of providing information about the profession and the Academy, giving a little free medical advice and lobbying for patient protection legislation.

Some of the orthopaedic surgeons who represented the Academy at two recent conferences of state legislators were retired, but others took time away from their practices to volunteer because they believe physicians can no longer afford to let the political process pass them by.

"Recognizing the importance of state government and its current and future influence on health care delivery and financing, the AAOS in concert with state orthopaedic societies must commit to building solid relationships with state legislators and staff as we continue to be advocates for our patients and cost-effective, quality musculoskeletal health care," said William W. Tipton Jr., MD, Academy executive vice president. Dr. Tipton was one of seven Academy members on-hand to talk with state legislators at the American Legislative Exchange Council in Chicago. They made 100 contacts with legislators.

A group of seven orthopaedic surgeons from Nevada and Arizona also represented the Academy at the 1998 National Conference of State Legislatures in Las Vegas where more than 250 contacts were made with legislators from all 50 states.

"We have to be part of the political process," said Delwyn J. Worthington, MD, president of the Arizona Orthopaedic Society. "If we are not, those who are are making all the decisions for us. Patient care issues are now coming in front of state legislatures, more there than at the national level, and if we don't have the ability to provide input, we are losing out and our patients are losing out on what they deserve in terms of care."

Dr. Worthington said he thinks legislators he met at the conference will go home feeling more receptive toward orthopaedic surgeons as a result of learning about the profession through personal contact.

While this was Dr. Worthington's first experience of this sort, he had little trouble finding ways to relate to the legislators. "For me to say I was interested in quality patient care and taking good care of the patients in his or her district made more of an inroad," he said.

The Academy's health policy department is responsible for recruiting volunteers for the conferences as well as stocking the exhibit with a variety of Academy brochures and scope of practice information.

At the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting, George C. Tsatsos, MD spent a fair amount of time talking about knees with legislators from New Hampshire and South Dakota while Thomas A. Karnezis, MD, talked with a Kansas legislator about her husband's torn rotator cuff.

Dr. Karnezis said he thinks it's important for legislators to see practicing orthopaedists who are willing to make themselves available in this type of setting. He said volunteering to spend a few hours at the exhibit was his first political activity in several years, but he said he chose to participate because he wanted to do his part to influence the course of health care and also to learn what legislators are thinking about the issue.

"It's everybody's responsibility to make an effort to modify health care and change health care to ensure that we can treat patients the way we want to," said Dr. Karnezis.

Each state orthopaedic society will receive a list of legislative contacts made at these two conferences to use as a first step in developing continuing relationships with elected officials in all 50 states.

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