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Wednesday Oct 17, 2012

Grateful for Opportunity, Eager to Serve

If I had to pick one word to describe my life's work in the world, it would have to be advocate.

As a family physician, my goal in clinic is to improve the health of my patients, one person at a time.

As a family medicine resident in Denver, I learned I could affect the health of my community one classroom at a time when we created Tar Wars.

In Colorado, we were able to create change statewide by enacting laws that defined the medical home, raised taxes on tobacco, and required insurance companies to pay for prosthetic arms and legs.

My entire adult life has been about being a physician and an advocate, stepping up to do what needs to be done. Each time we have seen success -- that our efforts really do make a difference -- it makes me eager to do more.

I can't think of a better position to affect the health of our patients and our practices than by serving as the national voice for family physicians. This is an exciting time for family medicine, and I'm grateful for the opportunity and eager to serve as your president this year.

Our Academy's top-level ultimate goal is to improve the health care of America while improving our practice environment.

It won't be easy.

But it is so very important.

For our patients, and for our practices.

We face many challenges in the coming months, including Medicare payment cuts scheduled to take effect as a result of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula and the Budget Control Act's sequestration provision.

During this election year, we cannot allow the noise of politics to drown out the voice of our patients. If we allow legislators to take a meat-cleaver approach to cutting Medicare costs, it will have disastrous results -- for the elderly, the disabled and our military veterans -- as well as our practices.

In the face of these challenges, we also have some really good news. We have always believed that family medicine is the way to improve health care and bend the cost curve. Now we have proof that primary care, specifically the patient-centered medical home model, reduces unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations and delivers higher quality care. A strong primary care system is the path to achieving the triple aim of better health, high quality outcomes and lower health care costs.

AAFP leaders, including our Board Chair Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., will join me this month making visits to Washington to share this truth -- that family medicine is the future -- with lawmakers. But it can't just be the Jeff and Glen show. Our specialty needs all of us -- our more than 105,000 members -- to make our voices heard.

When Paul Grundy, M.D., M.P.H., IBM's global director of health care transformation and co-chair of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative, recently addressed the AAFP Board of Directors, he had this to say about family medicine: "Your voice is so very powerful… and you don't even know it."

We need to harness that strength so we can address not only payment reform but other vital issues for our country's health: workforce issues, tort reform and health care for all.

What could be more powerful than our own stories about our patients -- many of them registered voters -- and how cuts to Medicare will threaten their access to care? And remember, many private payers base their fee structures on Medicare; this threat isn't limited to patients covered by Medicare.

The looming payment cuts present a potential crisis. But they also present an opportunity for us to tell our stories, to shine a spotlight on the fact that family physicians have been underappreciated, undervalued and underpaid.

When we combine the moral authority of our patients' stories with the now proven economic efficacy of family medicine, we really will be able to transform health care for everyone.

My job this next year will be to be the voice of family medicine. To tell our story. But to be truly successful, we all must make our voices heard for the good of our patients, our practices and our specialty.

Jeff Cain, M.D., is President of the AAFP.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.