Acting on Our Convictions: Court Ruling Shows Need to Stand Up for Evidence-based Care
I recently had an office visit with a patient who was in need of contraception. She is 19 years old, going to school part time and working. With an ever-changing schedule, no plans to start a family and a history of migraines with aura and somewhat heavy menses, we discussed the evidence-based options of progestin-only methods versus nonhormonal methods.
Fortunately, her insurance covers all forms of contraception, and we were able to schedule her for a progestin intrauterine device (IUD) insertion. If her insurance had not covered IUDs, my patient would not have been able to afford the birth control method that is medically most appropriate for her.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell has set off a flood of press coverage and commentary about what the ruling means. A major concern for many physicians is that the ruling could affect how we practice medicine.
“The Supreme Court’s decision allowing companies to deny coverage for important health services sets a precedent that threatens the nation’s health," said AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D., in a statement. "With this decision, the court has moved health care decisions out of the exam room where patients can consult with their physicians -- and where such decisions should be made -- and put them into the hands of business owners who base decisions on personal beliefs rather than medical science.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) issued similar statements.
Since the ruling, bills has been introduced in the House and Senate that would countermand the court's decision by preventing for-profit companies from using religious beliefs to deny employees coverage of health services -- including contraception -- required by federal law.
Laws that interfere with our ability as physicians to care for our patients using what we, in concert with our patients, determine to be the best, evidenced-based approach are problematic. In medical school and residency, we are taught to listen attentively to a patient’s history, perform a focused and careful physical exam, and obtain any additional resources we may need (laboratory values, images, etc.) to develop our assessment and plan.
As family physicians, we are attuned to considering additional factors when determining our plan, such as a patient’s social history, insurance status, access to follow-up and mental health. What is not usually part of our training, however, is learning how to navigate a health care system in which judges and legislators can create barriers -- that are not grounded in evidence-based medicine -- to our patients’ ability to access the care that will best serve their health needs.
As new physicians, we are often focused on ensuring that the day-to-day care we provide for our patients is appropriate and consistent with what we learned during all our years of training. As this new blog's posts have accurately portrayed, there is a lot to grapple with during these first few years out of residency; feeling confident in our diagnoses, asking for assistance when needed and figuring out how to balance our new careers with our life outside of work are just a few examples. I would add to this list finding a way to advocate for our patients on a larger scale, outside of our offices and clinics.
Physicians do not yet have a loud enough voice in the legal decisions and debates that have been politicizing medicine in recent years. But our voices are incredibly important and can affect our patients’ lives.
Making our voices heard may seem like a daunting task to add to our already busy lives, but there are simple ways to start advocating against any and all interference with the physician-patient relationship. If you hear about proposed legislation that is not evidence-based and would negatively affect your patients, call or write your lawmakers to let them know where you stand. Better yet, make a face-to-face appointment to explain your concerns as a physician.
If you see an editorial or article in your local newspaper about a legal decision or law that would interfere with physicians’ medical practice, write a letter to the editor to lay out your concerns.
You can also get involved with advocacy organizations (such as your state chapter) that can keep you informed about new developments and laws that may affect your medical practice and patients and will help you make your voice heard.
As physicians and patient advocates, we have a responsibility to speak up in the face of court rulings and laws that threaten our patients’ ability to access the health care they need. How will you fulfill that responsibility?
Margaux Lazarin, D.O., M.P.H., provides comprehensive family health services, including osteopathic manipulation, at a community health center in the Bronx, N.Y. She is actively involved in teaching residents and medical students to deliver evidenced-based care to underserved communities.
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