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Tuesday Nov 24, 2015

Tales From the Road: Giving Thanks for Family Medicine

In the eight weeks since I became AAFP president, I have visited nine states; Washington, D.C.; and Canada on Academy business. Along the way, I've met with governors, members of Congress, medical students, journalists and many, many family physicians.

Although these are trying times for family medicine, I've seen many things to be thankful for, and I want to share some of those bright spots.

During the recent interim meeting of the AMA House of Delegates in Atlanta, Neil Brooks, M.D., of Vernon, Conn., announced that he was participating in his last AMA meeting. That's significant because the former AAFP president has been representing family medicine in the House of Medicine for more than a quarter of a century, including the past 12 years as a member of the AAFP's delegation.

(Coincidentally, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., spoke highly of Neil and his wife, Sandi, during a recent meeting with AAFP leaders. Courtney is a co-founder of the new Primary Care Caucus, which seeks to advance public policy that establishes, promotes and preserves a well-trained primary care workforce and delivery system as the foundation of our health care system.)

When experienced physicians like Neil Brooks leave leadership roles, who will take their place? Well, for one, I was impressed by Allen Rodriguez, a second-year medical student from UCLA who was part of our AMA delegation. Student interest in family medicine is increasing, and I try to meet with medical students wherever I go. Students are excited by the idea of family medicine -- taking a holistic approach to caring for people in the context of their community, family and life rather than defining them by their disease state.

The students I have met with (most recently at Virginia Commonwealth) are passionate about addressing the social determinants of health, show great leadership skills and are committed to lifting the profile of family medicine. We recently saw students and residents at Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Family Medicine Residency rally around their programs when those organizations announced misguided plans to divest from primary care. Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian backpedaled from those plans after a fierce, and well-deserved, backlash.

And, of course, I'm thankful for the family physicians who are out there helping people every day. I've visited several state chapters in the past few years, and one of the things I look forward to on these trips is hearing the inspiring stories of each state's family physician of the year.

In Illinois, I heard about Elba Villavicencio, M.D., of Buffalo Grove, who was nominated by a patient who said "Dr. V" helped her quit using tobacco after 35 years of smoking and also helped her lose weight. Villavicencio trained in Ecuador and practiced in her home country and Colombia for several years before coming to the United States, a move that required not only additional training but learning a new language.

In Iowa, I heard about Mark Haganman, D.O., of Osage, who was praised not only for being a good doctor but also a good citizen. Haganman was humble about accepting the award, but others praised him for going above and beyond what any patient would normally expect from his or her physician. For example, Haganman mowed a patient's yard, not because the patient had asked but because help was needed after a surgery. Stories like that are inspiring, and we need to hear more of them.

Studies tell us that more than one-third of physicians are struggling with burnout. During my speech in Denver at the Family Medicine Experience, I said that we need to look out for each other. I was pleased recently when one of our members took me literally and asked me to call a colleague who was struggling. I made that call last week and offered a sympathetic ear and some mentoring. It's rough out there, and we need to continue to look out for each other.

We also need to continue to share the stories of our colleagues who are doing incredible things in their communities. Doing so helps inform the press, the public, payers and politicians about why primary care matters.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for all that you do.

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president of the AAFP.

Friday Oct 09, 2015

Leadership Gives Female Physicians More Control of Career Path

I've worn a lot of hats in my nearly three decades as a family physician. I've been an associate residency program director, founded a health care consulting firm, worked in a federally qualified health center, advised my state's governor as physician general and served as a health correspondent for the region's NBC affiliate -- all while functioning as a family physician and putting our broad training to work.

I never made my gender an issue in any of those jobs, but in my newest role -- president of the AAFP -- I may have underestimated how important it is to some. During our recent Congress of Delegates  -- and in my year as president-elect -- a significant number of our female members told me they were inspired to see a woman in my position. These are women who want to make a difference, feel they can be leaders and are seeking opportunities for growth. Fortunately, leadership isn't closed to them at the AAFP. There are five women on our Board of Directors. Three of the Academy's seven commissions were chaired by women this past year. Women also play important leadership roles in our state chapters and at the National Conference of Constituency Leaders.

I received the President's Medal during my installation at the recent Congress of Delegates in Denver.

I am only the third female president in the long history of the AAFP, but women in leadership is a trend that is growing in family medicine. Forty-two percent of our active members are women, and the numbers are even higher among our younger members, with women accounting for 55 percent of our residents and 56 percent of new physician members.

Forty years ago, there were a little more than 35,000 female physicians in the entire country. Today, the number has swelled to more than 321,000, and women represent nearly one-third of the U.S. physician workforce.

Medscape recently surveyed more than 3,200 female physicians, and what they had to say about leadership, career satisfaction and work-life balance was interesting. (It's worth noting that 15 percent of respondents were family physicians.)

More than half the women said they hold at least one leadership position. Forty-two percent were leaders in their practice, 12 percent were leaders in academic departments, and 12 percent were leaders in a professional organization.

Although we've made progress, there are still notable gaps. For example, none of the respondents were deans or vice deans. And I'm clearly in the minority, because only 4 percent were presidents of professional organizations.

Survey participants were asked why they sought leadership roles, and the No. 1 answer leaders gave was to be a positive influence (70 percent), followed by a desire to make change (68 percent). Those are great answers, but the response that resonated with me was from the 53 percent of female leaders who said it was because they want to shape their own path.

When I get frustrated in my practice with my clunky electronic health records system, meaningful use or any of the other challenges we face, I think about the work we're doing as an Academy, and I know it won't always be this way. Although we may be frustrated by our circumstances, we can use that as motivation to be active agents of change. We can use our stories of adversity -- both our own and those of our patients -- to make good things happen through advocacy.

When we are in control, things are better at home and work. Is it a perfect process? Absolutely not, but doing something about our problems improves situations for ourselves and our patients.

The women surveyed (90 percent of those who identified as leaders and 86 percent of nonleaders) agreed that it is important for women to be involved in leadership. But they diverged on whether or not it was an important personal goal, with 76 percent of leaders saying it was important to them compared with 42 percent of nonleaders.

The most common reason cited for not getting involved was time constraints. Interestingly, when the women were asked if they were happy with their careers and personal lives, leaders were more likely to be professionally satisfied and had similar responses to those of nonleaders about personal life satisfaction despite the added demands on their time.

Of course, timing is everything. I'm the first mom to serve as Academy president, but my daughters are both in their 20s. It's important to consider not only what you can do but when you can do it.

Women who were not in leadership were asked why they chose not to get involved. Some of the reasons they gave are things we should change, including lack of female mentors and lack of support. As women become a larger percentage of the physician workforce, these barriers become totally surmountable. We must help guide our aspiring young leaders (male and female), and we all need to build our own network of support both within and outside of medicine.

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president of the AAFP.

Tuesday Sep 22, 2015

Practice Perspective: Patient Stories Get Attention of Media, Policymakers

One of the most important roles of the AAFP president is spokesperson, and I’ve done a lot of speaking this year.

In the first few weeks of September -- my last month as president -- I talked to reporters about health care apps, ICD-10, meaningful use, vaccination rates, workforce issues and more. On one particularly busy day, I did seven interviews.

As I traveled around the country this year to roughly a dozen constituent chapter meetings, it was clear there is a perception by many of our members that AAFP directors aren’t practicing physicians. But that isn’t the case. Although I traveled about 200 days during my term, I’m still a practicing small-town doc with a solo practice in rural Nebraska. So when members say to me that I don’t know what it’s like dealing with the day-to-day issues of a family practice, I say, “Yes, I do. I do what you do.”

That in-the-trenches perspective has helped me in my role as spokesman and advocate. For example, I know how challenging meaningful use has been and how the many shortcomings of electronic health records are hampering our practices. I’ve talked about it not only with the media but also with Congress.

What I've found is that whether I’m speaking with reporters or legislators, being a practicing physician makes a difference because both groups want to know how health care issues affect patients (their readers and constituents, respectively).

“Do you have an example?” is a question I’m asked on a regular basis. Invariably, my answer is, “Yes, I do.” And I’ve noticed that when I provide journalists with a compelling patient story, it almost always makes it into their articles.

Sharing stories about how patients are affected by things such as access to care or how physicians are being affected by issues such as payment helps inform public debate and, ultimately, shape policy. There’s no better example from this past year than the repeal of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. The AAFP and our members advocated relentlessly for years to have this flawed formula replaced. Thanks to your numerous letters, emails and phone calls, Congress voted overwhelmingly to replace the SGR and move forward with a new model for Medicare payment.

Thank you to everyone who joined us in this battle. Our voice and our stories are being heard and are a powerful force for changes in our health care system. The patient-centered medical home is mentioned in the Medicare Access and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) Reauthorization Act, the legislation that repealed the SGR, largely because of our advocacy efforts.

Of course, our work is not done. We continue to communicate with Congress and federal agencies about many other challenges, including meaningful use.

Some vital programs that support and promote primary care -- including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Health Resources and Services Administration -- have been targeted for cuts as Congress looks to reduce federal spending. But rest assured that the Academy is pushing back.  You can follow the AAFP’s advocacy efforts on these issues (and others) and get involved in our grassroots movement on our advocacy Web page.  

Sharing our stories is a powerful thing.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president of the AAFP. He will transition to the role of Board chair on Sept. 30.

Wednesday Sep 16, 2015

Building Relationships at Core of Family Medicine, Leadership

It's hard to believe that this will be the last blog I write as an AAFP officer. For me, the past six years on the AAFP Board of Directors have flown by. I have had an incredible journey full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. However, one of the most important lessons I have learned is a basic one that is a core trait of being a family physician: It is all about relationships.

Although we say this routinely, it is such a profound truth that it can be overlooked in our busy lives. But when we embrace it, it is the fundamental approach to how we do what we do as family physicians.

Here I am sharing a laugh with Academy members (clockwise from top) Kim Yu, M.D., Jennifer Bacani McKenney, M.D., and Kevin Wang, M.D., during an AAFP event. Building relationships is critical not only in our practices but also in leadership.

It is also the foundation on which health care reform must be built. One of the biggest dangers associated with the fragmented and siloed care many Americans still receive derives from a failure to respect this core principle. In all the discussions about primary care, providers, teams and the latest acronyms, we can lose sight of this basic truth: We care for individual people, and we must do so with teams of people who value the uniqueness of that person.

I have been able to travel the country and meet hundreds of AAFP members in their home states. This constantly reminded me to put our relationships into the right context. You are most "yourself" in your natural environment. As an AAFP Board member, and as an officer for the past three years, I needed to have the full understanding of who you are and how you are affected by all the changes that are happening in our health care system. Conversations, phone calls, meetings, notes, emails and social media interactions all helped teach me about you. This allowed me to better represent family physicians and to advocate more forcefully for our specialty.

My wife Alex and I have been welcomed into so many of your chapters, as well as into many people’s homes. We have broken bread together, enjoyed good drink, engaged in stimulating conversation, played music and sang songs, roasted marshmallows around bonfires, hiked incredible vistas, and enjoyed the peace of friendships all over the country. We have felt like a part of your families, and we thank you for that kindness and hospitality.

Life on the road can be challenging. AAFP officers travel more than 200 days a year. One of the things that keeps us going is the sense of connection and appreciation we feel at the many meetings and events we attend. This support makes it much easier to do the important work of engaging different groups outside of family medicine and making sure they know who we are, what we do and why it matters.

Of course, it helps to have a wonderful message. There is nothing better than seeing the light go on in the eyes of a congressional staffer, a legislator or a health care colleague when they finally "get it."

Although we each have our own perspectives, and our individual chapters may have slightly different challenges and priorities, we really are all singing the same song when it comes to the importance and value of family physicians. We are stronger together.

Accordingly, one of the challenges I'll leave each of you with is to make sure that you don't turn your back on the sacred nature of the relationships you create and nurture. It can be easy when you're frustrated by changes to allow that frustration to overtake the incredible joy that comes with answering the call to service. For those of you who are leaders within our national or state academies and in your communities, I challenge you to also seek out and nurture the relationships you create in those roles. It is critical that we truly represent those who depend on us to take their voices forward.

For those who would like to be more involved in leadership, the Academy offers many opportunities. For example, the deadline is fast approaching for state chapters to nominate members for AAFP commissions. I cannot emphasize enough how invigorating it is to move to the next level of involvement. Please jump in -- the water's fine!

My time on the AAFP Board will come to an end later this month when the Congress of Delegates  convenes in Denver. Thank you for the tremendous honor of representing you. Although I will not be contributing in this particular forum any longer, you will continue to hear from me. I'm excited about my role on the Family Medicine for America's Health Board of Directors. I also will continue to serve as the Academy's liaison to the CMS Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network guiding committee.

My time on the AAFP Board has prepared me to take on these roles as we continue to navigate challenging waters ahead. I am confident we are moving in the right direction, and that others are seeing family medicine more clearly, listening to us more openly and believing in our message.

Thanks for being on this journey with me. Thanks for your support. And thanks for making me feel like a part of your family.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is the Board chair of the AAFP. His term ends Sept. 30.

Wednesday Jul 15, 2015

Are You the Leader We're Looking for?

Before the end of the year, nearly two dozen family physician volunteers will be selected to serve on AAFP commissions, providing invaluable input regarding issues related to continuing professional development, education, finance and insurance, governmental advocacy, health of the public and science, membership and member services, and quality and practice.

If you've ever wanted to get involved, make a difference or make your voice heard, this could be your chance. The Academy sent a letter to its constituent chapters today seeking nominations for 23 commission slots that will be vacated in December. Interested members should contact their chapters before the Oct. 15 deadline for nominations. To be considered, your chapter must provide a

Commission members serve four-year terms and participate in biannual meetings, conference calls, project work and other activities. Commission work can be a stepping stone to leadership in our organization. More importantly, it is an opportunity to influence the direction of the Academy and our specialty.

Photo courtesy of Kim Yu, M.D.

More than 100 Academy members volunteer their time each year and provide input to the AAFP's seven commissions, including the Commission on Membership and Member Services.

As an example of how the commission process works, I visited AAFP headquarters in Leawood, Kan., twice this spring to attend meetings of the Commission on Finance and Insurance that took place during budgeting for the new fiscal year. I was impressed by the diligence with which the organization prepares the annual operating budget and the thoughtful questions that were asked by the 10 family physicians volunteers before they forwarded that budget to the Board of Directors for approval. There is a commitment by all involved to spend your dues money wisely.

It's an intense, time-consuming process. Each Academy division director was given 30 minutes to explain who they are and what they do, explain items of note in the budget related to their division and discuss goals and hiring needs for their areas. Commission members listen and ask questions.

Given the scope and breadth of the Academy (more than 120,000 members and more than 400 employees) and the immense number of activities the AAFP is involved with in advocacy, education, practice advancement and public health, one commission member likened the budget process to drinking from a fire hose. The Commission on Finance and Insurance is tasked with striking a balance between being a good steward of Academy funds while also advancing needed products and services to members.

For example, one of the many projects discussed during budgeting was the recently launched Performance Navigator. The ambitious project combines live learning and online resources in a new tool that can help family physicians satisfy requirements for maintenance of certification parts II and IV, earn up to 113.5 AAFP Prescribed credits, and improve our practices while enhancing reimbursement potential. (Registration is now open for the Nov. 4-6 live course in Carlsbad, Calif.)

This commission's responsibility when considering such projects is to look at the big picture, understand what our resources are and make recommendations to the Board of Directors. The members of our other commissions perform similar tasks, reviewing emerging legislation and regulations for possible comment; lending their expertise in developing clinical policies and preventive services recommendations; providing feedback on proposed CME programs and activities; offering insights on new practice tools and processes; and more.

So here is your chance to make your mark and support our specialty. Contact your chapter. October will be here before you know it.

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president-elect of the AAFP.

Saturday Jun 20, 2015

Father's Day Flashback: Lessons Learned From Dads

I have been blessed with many father figures in my life, and each one has shared valuable wisdom that has helped me become a better physician, a better leader and a better person. In honor of Father's Day, and fathers everywhere, I want to pay tribute to the special fathers in my life by sharing some of their wisdom.

My great grandfather, Charles Light, was a Mennonite minister. My first memories of him were of a gentle man who lived simply on a farm and enjoyed quilting. He was a member of the Hereford Dairy Project and sailed on that initiative's first trips that brought animals to those living in poverty so they would have sustainable means to provide food and income for their families. He showed me the wisdom of paying it forward.

My great grandpa Otto McBride was a carpenter. My first memories of him were of his wonderful smile, which extended over his entire face and into his eyes. He could create anything with his hands. I still have the cedar chest he built for my grandma to keep my mother’s baby clothes in. He showed me the wisdom of building your own future.

My other great grandpa, Thomas Lloyd, owned his own shoe store in Racine, Wis. My first memories of him were of playing with the hundreds of seashells that he would collect in Florida and bring back home in jars. He showed me the wisdom of appreciating the beauty in nature.

My grandpa Don Beckenbaugh was a salesman in the Midwest who retired and moved to southern California. Six months after his retirement, he was offered a job selling real estate. Six months after that he became a broker who managed a successful real estate business in Laguna Niguel for 20 years. He was also committed to keeping his large family connected, and every time we had a gathering, he would go around the table and make everyone stand up and give a short speech to share what was new in their life. (That was the old-fashioned version of Facebook). He showed me the wisdom of believing in yourself.

My other grandpa, Allen Light, was a salesman who lived his entire life in the Midwest, which allowed me to spend holidays and summer vacations at his home for more than 40 years. He had a great sense of humor and a sharp wit and was an avid gardener and winemaker. He had a strong faith in God and held the importance of family above all other things. He took care of me when I was a baby, and he helped take care of my babies when I became a mom. He always took an active interest in whatever I did in my personal and professional life. When he developed cancer at the end of his life, he taught me what is was like to be a patient. He showed me that the burden of disease cannot break your spirit, but also that it cannot exceed your capability to live with disease. He showed me the wisdom of allowing faith, hope and love to guide your life.

My dad, Bob Beckenbaugh, is a recently retired hand surgeon. He was the first one to introduce me to medicine and show me how physicians can make a difference in the life of others. Dad also taught me to appreciate the power of humor and the importance of having fun. He taught me to laugh and tell jokes and to  swim, water ski and snow ski. He even tried to teach me to play golf, but he says I "hit the big ball (planet Earth) more than the little ball (the golf ball)." Most of all, my dad taught me that taking care of other people is the most important service you can do with your life, and that as a physician, patients should always be treated with courtesy and respect. My dad showed me the wisdom of keeping joy in your life and striving for excellence in caring for others.

For the past 36 years, I have been blessed with another dad, my father-in-law Ted Lillie Sr. He is a retired small business owner who cares deeply for his family and strives to help those who are less fortunate then himself. He taught my husband to be a wonderful father, and he has shown me the wisdom of perseverance in the face of adversity.

So this month, I say thank you to all my fathers, and thank you to fathers everywhere who take the time to make a difference in the lives of others.

Lynne Lillie, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Tuesday Jun 09, 2015

Vacation? Hardly. AAFP Commission Work Is Tough, but Worth It

I recently returned home from the summer meeting of the AAFP commissions, typically referred to as Summer Cluster by its participants. Such meetings are sometimes called "vacations" by people who aren't involved, but the truth is that they are hard work.

And our hard work is backed up by the hard work of those back home who cover for us.

More than 100 family physicians, residents and medical students volunteer their time to the commissions, which provide input that shapes the direction of the AAFP and family medicine. Members serve four-year terms on commissions, which focus on specific areas, such as advocacy, education, member services, public health, professional development and practice improvement.

Photo courtesy of Kim Yu, M.D.

AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., center, speaks during a meeting of the Commission on Membership and Member Services. More than 100 Academy members volunteer their time and provide input to the AAFP's seven commissions.

Liaisons from the AAFP Board of Directors and constituent chapter executives also participate in these biannual meetings, and many of us return home with wry smiles as people ask about the time we spent out of town. Cluster meetings typically are held in the summer and winter in Kansas City (near the AAFP's headquarters), which is known for its climatic extremes. Although it's a fine city, Kansas City in the sweltering summer (or dead of winter) is not an ideal vacation destination.

Here's the long and short of it: When commissioners, Board members, officers and chapter executives are in Kansas City for Cluster meetings, we are working. There is a significant amount of prep work for these meetings, including poring through agendas that often are hundreds of pages long.

Most of us are practicing physicians, and in this era of electronic health records (EHRs), we are never truly away from patient care. Almost all of us have to step out of meetings at some point to take a patient phone call. We consult our EHRs during breaks so we can address urgent patient care needs, and we check in with our staffs. For example, throughout each day of the recent meeting, I made time for various patient care issues. I filled prescriptions, sent portal messages asking for follow-up from six patients on various issues (all sent on one morning, and answered that afternoon), dealt with a patient who had a new problem (which also resulted in a phone call), and reviewed the care of residents I had precepted the day before the meeting started.

In addition to patient care, many of the Board members -- especially officers -- must also find time for media calls (just as we do when we are back home). AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., in particular, is essentially on call 24/7 to handle media requests and to dash off to represent the Academy at other events, be it the annual AMA meeting, a White House event or some other important gathering. Not a meeting goes by in which he is not dealing with several phone interviews or email reviews of important media opportunities. These are critical for getting family medicine's message out to the public, and he has done an outstanding job.

I admit that I get so recharged after spending a few days with friends and colleagues at Cluster meetings that anyone could be forgiven for thinking I was coming back from a restful time away. In the end, there is nothing more exciting or rewarding than being able to continue to take care of our patients and our practices, while at the same time doing the important work of the Academy.

Next month, the AAFP will make its annual call on chapters to nominate family physicians to serve on the commissions. I'm grateful for all those who have served because they challenge us as an organization to do what we do even better. But we also owe a debt of gratitude to the people in our practices, communities and, of course, our homes who cover for us and support us, which allows us to do important work for our specialty and our Academy. Thanks to all.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is Board chair of the AAFP.

Thursday May 14, 2015

Face-to-Face With Dr. Oz: Benefits of Touting Family Medicine Outweigh Risks

When discussing treatment options with our patients, we consider the risks and the benefits of the various options available. Ideally, we seek choices with benefits that far outweigh the risks.

The same is true for leadership, but sometimes you have to boldly stick your neck out to make your message heard.

Here I am talking with Mehmet Oz, M.D., on "The Dr. Oz Show." In a show about facing your fears, my segment dealt with the fact that some patients fear going to the doctor. I emphasized that patients need a family physician who can serve as their trusted health adviser.

Earlier this year, I got a phone call from Mehmet Oz, M.D., the cardiothoracic surgeon, author and TV host better known as Dr. Oz. We had met years before when I was working for the local NBC affiliate as a health consultant and reporter. His staff had initiated conversations with the Academy about interviewing me on his show, and now he was reaching out to me directly.

I hadn't jumped at the opportunity, and with good reason. It's been a rough year for Dr. Oz, who was called before Congress last summer because of concerns with some of the products that have been promoted on his show.

"You need to understand that our members aren't happy with some of your advice," I told him. I also let him know that family physicians are spending too much of our valuable time explaining to patients why we don't recommend some of the products and ideas they've seen on his show.

But again he asked me to come on the show to tell his audience about family medicine, and that audience is vast. Each weekday, nearly 2 million people tune in to watch on television, and many millions more watch online.

So here was a risk with a potentially huge benefit. This was an opportunity to talk to millions of Americans about the importance of family medicine and the critical role that primary care plays in health care. I could give this audience, which hasn't always received evidence-based information, a better understanding of who we are and what we do as family physicians.

As I considered it, the conclusion that I drew was that the benefits would outweigh any risks if I could reach viewers who don't have a primary care physician and make them realize that they should. Incredibly, that goal was accomplished before the show was ever broadcast.

The topic of the episode, which aired today, was fear. Specifically, my segment dealt with fear of going to the doctor, which can keep people away from our practices even when they are in dire need of care.

So we talked about why everyone needs a family physician, a trusted adviser who knows the patient and his or her family history. We talked about the scope of family medicine and the fact that we care for people from the beginning of life until the end. We also talked about our ability to help patients set and reach their personal health goals.

One woman in the audience had not seen a physician in more than a decade because of her personal fears and concerns about costs. When we had finished taping my segment, I walked over to her and said, "Can I help you find a family physician?"

"I would love that," she said.

I followed up with her, and -- with help from the New York State AFP -- was able to connect her with a family physician in her area. If nothing else, I know my appearance on that show made a difference for one person already.

We mitigated our risks with Dr. Oz as much as possible. We discussed beforehand things I would not do on the show, found out who the other guests would be, and received a guarantee that there wouldn't be any medical products or services or nutritional or diet products promoted during this episode.

This effort already helped at least one person in the studio audience. My hope is that viewers who see the episode on TV or online will find their way into our exam rooms. Americans need to understand the value and importance of what we do. For people to hear our message, we may have to take a few bold risks.

Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., is president-elect of the AAFP.

Tuesday May 05, 2015

Your Opinion Matters; Here's How to Share It

With more than 120,000 members working in a wide range of practice models in all 50 states; U.S. territories; Washington, D.C.; and U.S. military bases around the globe, we won't always have a consensus on issues that affect family medicine. In fact, we often don't.

Although family physicians are different in so many ways -- based on gender, generation, political affiliation and race, to name a few -- we all share a common goal: to provide the best care possible to our communities. It's important that we communicate and work together as members and as an organization to achieve that goal.

Tiffany Matson/AAFP
Here I am talking with attendees at the AAFP Leadership Conference. Hundreds of members and chapter staff attended the event last week in Kansas City, Mo.

Sometimes, the Academy receives feedback from members who feel they aren't being heard. Small- and solo practice physicians, in particular, have vented frustrations about the growing regulatory burdens their practices face and their need for help in addressing these obstacles. I understand because I am a rural, small-practice physician, and there are others like me serving on our Board of Directors. And I can tell you we do hear members' feedback.

AAFP officers, myself among them, offered updates on a variety of issues facing family medicine and took questions from members during a May 1 Town Hall meeting during the AAFP Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Mo. We discussed payment reform, workforce issues and more. Members will have another opportunity to ask us tough, direct questions Sept. 27 during a Town Hall meeting at the Congress of Delegates in Denver.   

But these annual events are only two examples of ways that AAFP leaders and staff listen to members' opinions. There are many other ways to make your voice heard.

The Academy regularly solicits member feedback through randomized surveys. If you want to make your opinion known, this is an excellent -- and easy -- way to provide input that affects AAFP products and policies. In 2013, the Academy polled members more than two dozen times on various issues, so if you receive a survey, please complete it!

The AAFP also gathers feedback about twice a month through the Member Insight Exchange. This is a growing group of family physicians -- currently, about 600 of them -- who have provided input on a wide range of issues, including AAFP products, Medicaid, health care apps, direct primary care and more. The Academy would like to expand the numbers of members who participate (log in required) and earn incentives for providing feedback.

It's also worth noting that we send a member of the Board to nearly every state chapter meeting.  These meetings offer a chance for us to provide updates about what the Academy is doing nationally, but more importantly, they provide an opportunity for us to listen to family physicians from across the country.

Last year, the Academy illustrated its commitment to helping all members have their voices heard when it created a pathway for the establishment of member interest groups. To date, 10 groups -- including one for solo/small practices and another for rural health -- have been created. Many of these groups plan to meet at AAFP Family Medicine Experience (FMX) in September in Denver.

AAFP leaders also are participating in quarterly online discussions with family medicine interest group leaders to answer questions and discuss issues that matter to medical students.

In addition, AAFP leaders and staff have responded to members' questions and concerns posted on the Academy's listservs. Although we don't respond to every comment, the Academy monitors and discusses comments we receive via social media. And you can communicate with me directly through the AAFP President Facebook page and on Twitter @aafpprez.

I want to assure you your voice and input matter greatly. As a practicing family physician, I understand firsthand many of the frustrations of our members. As an Academy, we will continue to work hard on reducing those frustrations so that we can bring the joy of practice back to our lives.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Wednesday Apr 08, 2015

FPs Have Ability to Inspire, Be Inspired by, One Another

During a recent review course at our local medical school, my practice partner gave a lecture about the patient-centered medical home (PCMH). My partner -- who also happens to be my wife -- was not too keen on making the presentation at first. She doesn't think of herself as a public speaker, but after a bit of encouragement, she agreed to share the story of our journey through practice transformation with an audience of about 250 people. And she was magnificent.

Every practicing physician has interesting and valuable stories that other physicians could learn from, but too often, we don’t seize the opportunities in front of us. Likewise, I think many family physicians fail to realize the value we bring to the health care system. But if our nation is to transition from a specialty-driven health care system to one built on primary care, family physicians must be the change agents in that revolution. We cannot wait for permission or validation from others; if we do not believe in ourselves, who will?

In medical school, we often heard the mantra, “see one, do one, teach one,” which emphasizes student learning through practice. A similar approach of “imagine one, do one, inspire one” could be applied to the changes that are needed in our health care system.

One of the experiences I enjoy most of late is when other physicians come to visit our practice to see what we’re doing. Some come to see what we’ve done with our electronic health record system. Others want to know how a small, rural practice became a recognized PCMH. Still others want to hear about our accountable care organization (ACO).

Being around people who are making changes and succeeding can give us the confidence, courage and inspiration to embark on our own transitions. And that doesn’t have to be a transition to a PCMH or an ACO. A growing number of our members are pursuing other practice alternatives, such as direct primary care.

We can create the change we want to see, but first we have to understand the possibilities. We can’t just sit back and wait to see what happens next. Of course, every family physician doesn’t have to run for a chapter presidency or testify before a congressional committee to consider him- or herself "involved," but we can all share our success stories with our colleagues and work with our staffs to provide the best care possible.

The Academy has pledged to deliver "strong medicine for America." So long as we inspire our family physician colleagues, and allow ourselves to be inspired by others, we will deliver on that promise.

Lloyd Van Winkle, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Thursday Feb 19, 2015

Thomas Wolfe Had It Wrong: You Can Go Home Again

The only doctor who ever treated me while I was growing up was the local general practitioner, so my concept of a physician was someone who took care of everyone -- from birth to end of life -- and was involved in the community. Being exposed to subspecialty care during medical school and residency didn't change my perception of what I was meant to do. I knew I wanted to be a "real doctor."

Photo Courtesy Megan Sonnier

Here I am talking to a patient who -- like many in my hometown practice -- I've known for decades. In fact, he wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I was a high school student applying for a scholarship at the University of Alabama.

Not to gainsay Thomas Wolfe's compelling novel You Can't Go Home Again, but when I left Bibb County, Ala., to attend medical school in Mobile in 1975, that was exactly what I planned to do. I wanted to practice family medicine in my community.

I live in Brent, Ala., and work in Centreville. These neighboring small towns run together and are home to roughly 6,000 people combined. When I look at my patient list in the morning, I often know patients' complaints before I see them because I've already heard about their illnesses, conditions or concerns at church, in the stores or from my nurse.

At the heart of primary care is the idea that patients should have an ongoing relationship with a family physician they know and trust. I have that kind of relationship with my patients because I've lived here most of my life, and I've practiced medicine here for more than 30 years.

There were only two other physicians in the county -- both family physicians -- when I started my practice in 1982. One was another local who had come home to practice. One thing we learned about starting new practices in our hometown is that folks typically fall into one of three groups:

  • People who didn't know you before you became a physician or moved to town while you were away at medical school or residency;
  • People who knew you before you were a physician and will never come to you for care because they still think of you as a kid; and 
  • People who knew you before you were a physician and won't see any other doctor because they know and trust you.

Patients should have the right to choose their physician, and I understand that some of my old high-school classmates might be uncomfortable being patients of mine -- particularly women. On the other hand, I've delivered the babies of some of my former classmates, so it works both ways. My patient panel also includes former teachers, coaches and my high-school principal.

My wife grew up in a small town, too, and when I finished residency, we visited a few other communities before we decided where to start my practice. In fact, I had an offer to join a friend's practice in another location. But in the end, we couldn't find anything we liked better than my hometown.

I've built strong relationships in this community. To me, that's part of being a family physician. And I love what I do.

John Meigs, M.D., is speaker of the Congress of Delegates, the governing body of the AAFP.

Thursday Jan 01, 2015

New Year Brings New Life, New Hope

As the year winds down, the holidays give us an opportunity to share time with our family and friends. It is a time when the young create new memories and the old share theirs.

One of my most memorable holidays as a family physician happened just a few years ago. Brenda and I were preparing for New Year's Eve -- packing things to take to a friend’s house to celebrate the new year with friends and family -- when I got a call from the hospital. One of my maternity patients had arrived and was contracting. I admitted her and told the nurse I would stop by and check on her shortly. On my way to the party, I stopped at the hospital and confirmed my patient was in labor.

© 2014 Sheri Porter/AAFP
Here I am checking on a new patient in the hospital. Maternity care can make things challenging during the holiday season.

I spent the early part of the evening with good friends and family and limited my celebration to sodas and coffee. I received hourly updates about my patient, and by 10:30 p.m., her labor had progressed enough that I excused myself from the gathering and made arrangements for my brother to take Brenda home.

I went to the hospital and sat with my patient and her husband, monitoring her labor’s progress. At 11:30, it was time to start pushing. She did well, and around 12:30 a.m. -- at the start of a new year -- we celebrated the birth of their new son.

Both parents were elated, although the father did ask if we could have "rushed this along a little" so the tax deduction that comes with a new child could have been applied to the year that had just ended. I told him I didn’t have much to do with the timing, and he agreed. The next day, however, the local newspaper took a photograph of the county's first baby of the year, and the family received many gift certificates and congratulations from businesses in the community.

I headed home around 1:30 a.m. Brenda got up, and we opened a bottle of champagne and celebrated the new year, a healthy new baby boy, and a new patient in my practice.

That is family medicine. Sometimes our families have to make sacrifices, but it is part of who we are. And our communities are stronger for it. This was a memorable New Year's for me and this family. I'd like to hear the story of your most memorable holiday spent with patients in the comments field below.

Happy New Year from the AAFP. Take a look at this video to see some of what we accomplished in 2014.  And here's to a prosperous 2015.

Robert Wergin, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Monday Nov 24, 2014

The Center for the History of Family Medicine: At First, I Didn't Care Either. But Now I Get It

Probably like many of you, I don't think about history much. Between the responsibilities of my practice, my family and my service to the Academy and its members, I just don't have a lot of time to study the past.

So when I was appointed recently as the Academy's representative to the Board of Curators of the Center for the History of Family Medicine, I did not know what to expect. As the principal resource center for the collection of the specialty's history, the center struck me as a dull abstraction at best and at worst, a waste of time, space and money. With all of the many issues and challenges facing our specialty, it just didn't seem important to me.

Photo courtesy the Center for the History of Family Medicine
Arthur "Lud" Ludwick Jr., M.D., won the Silver Star while serving as a physician on the frontline during World War II. Ludwick is one of the many physicians whose stories are told through the Center for the History of Family Medicine.

But then I came to the center and saw it for myself. And now I get it.

The center is much more than just a place where old papers are stored. It is the collective memory of family medicine. 

Told through its many documents, photographs, videos and artifacts, the story of our specialty is one of hardship, struggle and, ultimately, triumph. It begins in 1947, when a group of general practitioners -- facing the almost certain extinction of general practice -- formed the organization that we know today as the AAFP. It's a story worth remembering as we venture into the future and turn our sights to addressing the challenges and opportunities ahead through the Family Medicine for America's Health project.

But fundamentally, the story of family medicine is a story about people. It's a patchwork of the intensely personal stories of the many GPs and family docs who, throughout the history of our country, have served on the frontline of American medicine, caring for patients in wartime and in peacetime, and from birth to death.

Take for example, the story of  Arthur "Lud" Ludwick Jr., M.D., who won the Silver Star for "gallantry in action" while serving as a GP on the Italian frontline during World War II and then went on to have a long and distinguished career practicing in Wenatchee, Wash.

Or the story of Olin Elliott, M.D., of Des Moines, Iowa. Described by one colleague as "a delightful, well-rounded doctor, loved and respected by patients, colleagues, family and acquaintances alike," Elliott was renowned for his compassion and dedication to his craft. In 1957, when his wife was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he became her primary caretaker while still continuing his medical practice, providing her with medical treatment until her death. In later years, Elliott volunteered at a clinic for the homeless in Des Moines, and even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1981, he continued to care for his patients up until the day of his death the following year. 

Or, more recently, the story of Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., a family physician from the small fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., who went on to become the 18th surgeon general of the United States.    

All of their stories -- and the stories of many others -- are told through the center's collections.

And there are practical applications for the center's holdings, too. An important educational resource for the specialty, each year, the center sponsors both a research fellowship and an internship program. The information contained in the center's collections helps us understand -- and hopefully avoid -- the mistakes of the past, thus saving us time and money that might otherwise have been spent trying to reinvent the wheel. It also plays an important role in advancing our specialty by supporting and enhancing public relations and marketing efforts through interesting and informative exhibits.

In short, the center allows us to make a direct and vital connection between family medicine's distinguished past and its exciting future.

So now I get it. And I hope that you will have the opportunity one day to visit the center  -- either in person at the Academy's Leawood, Kan., headquarters or through its website -- and discover this for yourself.

After all, in the words of author and historian Theodore Draper, "If history can teach us nothing, we have nothing that can teach us."

Robert Lee, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Monday Oct 20, 2014

My Year as President: The Honor Has Been Mine

It is hard to believe that a year has passed so quickly. In fact, I was blessed to have a 13-month term as AAFP president, and I did my best to make the most of it. In so many ways, this time on the AAFP Board of Directors has reminded me of my professional path, having worked as a small-town family physician before becoming residency faculty.  

I always tell new faculty at East Tennessee State University that you have to work at least five years to see the patterns in medical training and avoid the panic that often comes when challenges arise. Similarly, I am finishing my fifth year on the Board, and I have learned a lot in that time. It has been an exciting period, and I want to summarize some of my experiences.

 © 2014 Marketing Images/AAFP
Speaking with students, like I am here at the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, is one important aspect of being the Academy's president.

When I was running for president-elect, I promised I was going to do my best to say yes -- and I have. This has been an amazing year. I topped 1 million miles on Delta and visited 17 AAFP chapters. One of the most profound experiences was the chance to meet not only the state leaders that we install in those chapters, but to meet our members who have chosen to put their energy into patient care and help our communities. Thank you for your dedication, your inspiration and for working through the many challenges. The time I have spent with you has helped me do a better job of understanding those challenges and representing family medicine in Washington, D.C.

I have spent a significant amount of time trying to reframe discussions about health care, including about scope of practice. Although this remains a significant issue from state to state, it's important to remember that we have a number of states that have allowed nurse practitioners to practice independently for years, and the results demonstrate this isn't the right solution to our nation's primary care shortage. Every state in our country is experiencing poor patient outcomes, decreased provider and patient satisfaction, and high costs.

The solution to these problems is to truly focus on increasing the number of primary care physicians in practice, creating more effective patient-centered medical homes, and providing care in a team-based fashion. The Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative for example, is demonstrating that the kinds of changes the AAFP has been advocating for more than 10 years are the changes that lead directly to improved outcomes and decreased costs.

And there are more data to come, so stay tuned.

One facet of the president's job is to represent the Academy at meetings with other health care organizations, which creates opportunities to network and make important connections. After all, it's critical that team-based care also include organizational teams. I was honored to be invited to meet with a number of organizations -- some for the first time -- and help create new relationships for the AAFP or strengthen existing ones. Among the opportunities I have taken advantage of have been invitations to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the AMA, the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the American Board of Family Medicine, the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), the American Pharmacists Association, the Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Medical Association,  the Society of General Internal Medicine, the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.  

Another important role of the president is to represent the Academy in Washington, and I was fortunate to be able to make numerous visits to the nation's capital. The sustainable growth rate remains one of our biggest challenges, but I truly have hope that we are moving in the right direction. Proposed bipartisan and bicameral legislation already in play could provide a unique opportunity during Congress' lame duck session. Our comprehensive advocacy approach with organizations such as the AMA, the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Physicians and the AOA have created a unified voice for medicine that is getting the attention of those on the Hill.

We have other serious issues ahead, such as avoiding Medicaid cuts and addressing the regulated sunsetting of the primary care bonus, but we are opening more doors and sitting down at more tables to discuss these matters.  

Years of effort recently culminated in some major steps forward in graduate medical (GME) reform. The Institute of Medicine released its long-awaited report, with which the Academy substantially agreed. We followed that up with our own recommendations and a GME summit on Capitol Hill that was quite positively received. We are challenging long-held processes in significant ways. Much discussion and negotiation awaits, but once again, we are at another table addressing one of our primary goals.  

Just before coming to this week's Congress of Delegates and AAFP Assembly, I attended a premedical health fair at the University of California in Davis, a gathering of thousands of students who are considering careers in the health professions. In addition, I have been blessed to speak with students everywhere I have gone this year. Students are our life blood and our pipeline. These connections are critical, and I look forward to maintaining them.

One key way to stay connected is social media. Three years ago, the Academy made a commitment to giving members real-time updates about how the president is representing family physicians. The AAFP President's Facebook page now has more than 1,400 "likes," and the AAFP President's Twitter account -- @aafpprez -- has 2,400 followers. The Board also is providing regular and more in-depth updates through this blog. The better we stay informed and connected, the better we can advocate for each other.

It has been an honor to represent you, and I will continue to work for you during my year as Board chair. Thank you for the opportunity to take your stories forward. I am excited this week to be handing off the president's role to Bob Wergin, M.D. A small-town doctor who practices full-scope family medicine, he is the right person at the right place at the right time to lead us forward.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Wednesday Oct 15, 2014

The Flight of My Life: Reflecting on Six Years of Service

In its more than 40 years, my little Hatz biplane has had quite a life. In the two decades we have shared the sky, we have introduced more than 400 kids to the thrill of flying and traveled all the way across the country. It has brought me immeasurable joy.

But like all things physical, wear and age were beginning to show. So six years ago, we started the long process of restoration from the ground up. We replaced fabric covering, installed new instruments and a wood propeller, and finished with an updated paint job.

Today, she looks like a beautiful new airplane that's ready for new adventures. When you fly as a pilot and when you restore a plane, you keep a record -- a logbook -- that lists every flight and every improvement you make.

Coincidentally, it was six years ago that I joined the AAFP's Board of Directors. In many ways, looking back over those six years is like opening my Academy logbook.

Just like for my plane, there was a lot of work to be done in family medicine. The specialty was in crisis. Payment was woefully inadequate. AAFP membership was down. Student interest was low. Forty-seven million Americans were uninsured. As a candidate running for the AAFP Board, I asked the Congress of Delegates, rhetorically, if we were actually witnessing the collapse of primary care.

Fast forward to today, and the outlook for family medicine has changed. Day to day, our work in the trenches continues to be challenging, but the forecast for the future from the 10,000-foot level of the Board chair is now encouraging.

Six years ago, we knew family medicine was valued by our patients -- we could see it every day in our offices. Barbara Starfield, M.D., M.P.H., had showcased the value of primary care in her research. Still, recognition of those truths -- and support for primary care – from payers, employers and government was lacking.

Today, the patient-centered medical home model has shown that improving primary care is the key to meeting the triple aim for health care: higher quality, lower costs and improved care for patients. The Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative launched by CMS' Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is changing the way our government pays for primary care -- paying for value over volume -- and it is expanding. A growing number of employers, health plans and government agencies are beginning to demonstrate that they really value what we do. When it comes to payment reform, we haven't arrived at our destination, but we are on the way.

On Capitol Hill, we no longer have to explain to legislators and congressional staff what we family physicians do and why we matter. Federal agencies seek the Academy's input on important health care issues, and legislators are actively looking for ways to train more family physicians to address our country's primary care shortage.

But what about access to care? Today, there are 10 million newly insured Americans thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Our uninsured rate now stands at 13 percent -- 5 percent lower than it was six years ago and the lowest it has been since 2000. Americans may be split on the ACA, but there is overwhelming support for some of the basic tenets of the law: getting more people covered by insurance and reforming unfair insurance rules, including no longer allowing denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, caps on coverage, or retroactive canceling of coverage after someone becomes sick.

However, there is still much work to be done. We need restraints on rising health care costs, malpractice reform and a path to creating the primary care workforce our country deserves. And we still have  millions of uninsured. We haven't arrived at our Academy's ultimate goal of health care for all, but we are on the way.

Interest in family medicine is up nationally. AAFP membership reached a record high this year at 115,900. And for the fifth consecutive year, the number of medical students choosing family medicine climbed higher than the previous year. Twenty-five percent of all U.S. medical students are now Academy members.

To meet the needs of our nation's health care system, those numbers must continue to grow; this year, the AAFP took steps to proactively ensure that they can. Last month, the Academy unveiled a proposal that would significantly change the way graduate medical education is financed. Our proposal would bring transparency and accountability to a system that invests $15 billion a year on physician training but is unable to produce a workforce that aligns with the needs of the nation.

I'm also proud of the work the Academy is doing in public health. Last year, we included the social determinants of health in our strategic plan. And this year, we began the process of reimagining Tar Wars -- a program I helped develop more than 25 years ago -- as part of a comprehensive tobacco and nicotine prevention and control program that will include new tools for family physicians, community programs and advocacy.

We've talked about where the Academy has been, but where are we going? During the AAFP Assembly in Washington next week, the AAFP -- along with seven other national family medicine organizations -- will launch a national campaign that is the culmination of the Family Medicine for America's Health initiative and the biggest thing to happen in family medicine since the Future of Family Medicine project in 2004. This campaign will speak not only to family physicians but also to patients, payers and others, defining what we do as family physicians and why primary care is the vital foundation of our health care system.

Now when I climb in my biplane, I can tell she is still the same plane I have known and loved all these years, yet with new energy and new life -- the way she climbs, handles and how her paint flashes in the sun. She has come a long way.

Today, we are all part of a rebirth of family medicine. Our voice is being heard, our contributions are being valued, and we, too, have come a long way. Our country is counting on us to continue to be "bold champions" for America's health, transforming health care for optimal health for everyone.

As for me, my Academy logbook is now full. It's time to open up a new logbook and start my next adventure. Thank you for granting me the privilege of serving you. It has been the flight of a lifetime.

Jeff Cain, M.D., is Board chair of the AAFP.

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