One internist takes her advocacy efforts on the road
By Phyllis Maguire
The first time that Dawn E. Clancy, FACP, drove from South Carolina to Washington for ACP's Leadership Day in 2002, she was trying to save enough money on airfare to bring along several colleagues. When she made the same trek this year, however, she was more interested in spending time on the road with other internists to strategize about public policy issues.
At 10 hours each way, the trip is no mere Sunday drive. But for Dr. Clancy and her four passengers, including her chapter's Governor, the trip provided plenty of time to talk about the problems besetting medical practice. More importantly, the group used the hours together to plot out strategies for their visits to legislators on Capitol Hill.
College President Munsey S. Wheby, FACP, (right) applauds Dr. Clancy's efforts, which led the College to name her Key Contact of the Year.
"We take the time on the way up to talk about how we should approach issues" with legislators, Dr. Clancy said. "Then when we head home, we debrief and strategize about what our next moves should be."
Dr. Clancy's decision to drive to the nation's capital for Leadership Day two years in a row is just one example of her commitment to physician advocacy. It is also one of the reasons she won this year's ACP Key Contact of the Year Award, which recognizes individuals for their advocacy efforts.
As part of those efforts, Dr. Clancy nearly doubled her chapter's number of Key Contacts, individuals who respond to legislative alerts from the College. In addition to acting on alerts and writing to legislators herself, Dr. Clancy passed on many alerts to fellow chapter members, raising the level of advocacy commitment statewide.
What drives her interest in policy issues? First and foremost, she said, is her passion for improving access. While she has patient care and teaching duties at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, she also researches ways to extend access for under- and uninsured patients.
Her research focuses on how different health care delivery systems provide more cost-effective care to the uninsured. Her goal is to determine how health care systems could lose less money on indigent care.
In addition, she said that the passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 was a galvanizing political event. Besides slashing reimbursement to physicians and hospitals, she said, the legislation brought "a whole new body of Medicare regulations, fraud and abuse investigations, and problems with evaluation and management guidelines."
She quickly realized that without strong physician advocacy, "practices wouldn't be able to keep their doors open." She'd already coped with having to close an office when she left private practice for academic medicine in 1990. At that time, she had reluctantly decided that she could no longer continue practicing when Medicare covered 85% of her patients.
In reaching out to her fellow chapter members, Dr. Clancy—who is chair of the South Carolina Chapter's Health and Public Policy Committee—said that she finds many physicians hesitate to put their names forward as an advocate. Most worry that they will be swamped with junk e-mail.
"I always tell physicians that they will be contacted only when it's important that we respond as a profession," she explained. Once physicians realize that they will not be bombarded with requests, she added, they begin to appreciate how e-mail and other forms of electronic communication make it easy to respond to legislative alerts.
She also shares with chapter members her own guiding principle—something that has become a major topic of conversation in the van—when it comes to advocacy: Stay true to the patient.
"Everything will turn out OK for us as far as reimbursement and regulations as long as we stick to our mission," Dr. Clancy said. While that can be increasingly difficult with so many market forces pulling on physicians, she remains convinced that "what's good for our patients is going to get us past some of these huge issues."
More information about the College's Key Contact Network is online.
At its Leadership Day ceremonies in May, ACP presented awards to a legislator and several internists for their advocacy efforts.
The College gave its Joseph F. Boyle Award for Distinguished Public Service for improving the delivery of health care to Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.). College President Munsey S. Wheby, FACP, cited Rep. Bilirakis' support for adequate Medicare pay for physicians, relief from regulatory burdens and medical liability reform.
Dr. Wheby also recognized Rep. Bilirakis' work in supporting the National Institutes of Health and women's health research. And Dr. Wheby noted another of Rep. Bilirakis' contributions to the practice of internal medicine: His son, Emmanuel M. Bilirakis, ACP Member, is a practicing internist in Florida.
In addition to giving the Key Contact of the Year Award to Dawn E. Clancy, FACP, of Johns Island, S.C., for her contributions toward advancing ACP's policy agenda, the College acknowledged the efforts of 10 other Key Contacts. They were:
- Yul D. Ejnes, FACP, Cranston, R.I.
- Mark E. Mayer, FACP, University Heights, Ohio
- Richard L. Neubauer, FACP, Anchorage, Alaska
- J. Fred Ralston, FACP, Fayetteville, Tenn.
- Melvyn L. Sterling, FACP, Orange, Calif.
- Jeremiah G. Tilles, MACP, Irvine, Calif.
- Frederick E. Turton, FACP, Sarasota, Fla.
- John F. Fieselmann, FACP, Iowa City, Iowa
- Mahendr S. Kochar, FACP, Milwaukee
- Robert M. McLean, FACP, New Haven, Conn.
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