Physicians advocate for their patients on a daily basis – from requesting timely diagnostic tests to submitting a referral for a specialist to providing access to certain treatment methods. These small-scale, individual patient interactions are what we normally think of when we think about physician advocacy – helping an individual patient get the services they need. But what about advocacy through prevention? How do physicians advocate for the entire population and society?
The answer to that question is at the center of the West Virginia State Medical Association’s (WVSMA) annual Advocacy Day. Held on Jan. 23, Advocacy Day welcomes physicians, resident physicians and medical students to Charleston to learn about and participate in the legislative process by advocating for the interests of patients, public health and physicians.
“WVSMA works with legislators throughout the year to connect them with the physician community,” said WVSMA Executive Director Danny Scalise, an alumnus of the West Virginia University School of Public Health Master of Public Health program. “Advocacy Day provides a unique opportunity for physicians to visit legislators at the Capitol during the legislative session and connect the legislator with WVSMA and the physician’s home community.”
A physician resident in the WVU School of Public Health Occupational Medicine Residency program, Dr. Ryan Budwany participated in the full day of advocacy trainings and meetings with members of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, including the Senate Health Committee meeting and House Health Committee meeting. Starting with greetings from Scalise, the group of medical professionals heard from WVSMA lobbyist Alex Macia, Senator Dr. Ron Stollings, a member of the WVU School of Public Health Visiting Committee, and WVSMA Communications Director John Law before having the opportunity to attend the Legislative Session in the Capitol.
As the Young Physicians Chair for the WVSMA and the Resident Delegate to the American Medical Association (AMA), Dr. Budwany understands the importance of advocacy in the field of public health.
“We owe it to the community to advocate on their behalf. As physicians, what we can or can’t do at a patient’s bedside is decided on a much larger scale,” he explains. “We need to be the experts on healthcare issues and inform lawmakers as they’re making decisions that will effect the population’s health.”
At the national level, the WVSMA unites with similar associations from other states to form the AMA. Led by President Dr. Patrice Harris, an alumna of the WVU School of Medicine, the AMA focuses on critical issues in advocating for public health, access to care, payment reform, administrative burdens and judicial advocacy. In 2020, the AMA is ramping up efforts to advocate for the protection of public health, acknowledging that “physicians are uniquely suited to advocate for the improvement of the public’s health.”
Through advocacy initiatives, the local, state and national organizations are helping to save lives, prevent disease and reduce both direct health care costs and indirect costs. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for each birth cohort vaccinated with the routine immunization schedule, society saves 33,000 lives, prevents 14 million cases of disease, reduces direct health care costs by $9.9 billion and saves $33.4 billion in indirect costs.
As healthcare evolves in the United States, physicians will continue to play an important role in advocating for their patients and the public as a whole. Perhaps now more than ever, with the ongoing healthcare reform debate, it’s important for physicians to understand how to get involved and advocate for improvements.
CONTACT: Nikky Luna
WVU School of Public Health