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Back in 1999, the AAOS commissioned a study to determine the public’s perceptions and attitudes toward orthopaedic surgeons. We were surprised to find that some people thought we took care of teeth, while others thought we focused on the feet. Those who knew what an orthopaedic surgeon did gave us high marks for our years of education, training, and skills, but often labeled us as “high-tech, low-touch,” another surprising finding.

AAOS Now

Published 10/1/2008
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Tony Rankin, MD

Improving the image of the orthopaedic surgeon

Tony Rankin, MD

During the past decade, the AAOS public relations efforts have used the results of that research to develop a variety of strategies, tactics, programs, and events to enhance the image of the orthopaedic surgeon. One very visible component of these efforts is the Academy’s public service announcement (PSA) campaign, introduced each year at the Annual Meeting. PSAs help get the word out on what orthopaedics is all about, what we stand for, and the national health issues we support.

The Academy’s PSA campaigns—in print, radio, and television—cover relevant topics related to injury prevention, orthopaedic conditions, patient safety, and patient-centered care. They portray the diversity of our specialty and the diversity of the populations we serve. They direct people to our patient education Web site (http://orthoinfo.org) for accurate, peer-reviewed information on musculoskeletal conditions. And they generate $5 million to $8 million in free time and space for our orthopaedic messages.

A consistent message—undermined
Although the Academy’s PSAs deliver a consistent and positive message about orthopaedic surgeons, news reports during the past year have done much to tarnish our image. As this issue of AAOS Now shows, the fallout from the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the relationships between orthopaedic surgeons and industry continues to have an impact—not only on the public but also within our specialty.

I have heard from some fellows who are upset by what they perceive as bogus “consulting” deals and thinly veiled efforts to “buy market share.” But ethical collaborations between ortho­paedic surgeons and industry are necessary to develop new therapies, better instruments, improved implants, and better patient outcomes.

To address the increased scrutiny of both legislators and media, orthopaedic surgeons must hold to high ethical standards. We must focus on the importance of patient-centered care, communicate with our patients, disclose any information that may be perceived as presenting a conflict of interest, and make decisions with our patients that respect their beliefs and needs.

AAOS efforts
The AAOS has taken several steps to support orthopaedic surgeons who truly live by our Code of Medical Ethics and Professionalism. These actions range from adoption of Standards of Professionalism on Orthopaedist-Industry Conflicts of Interest to the establishment of an online disclosure database and new disclosure requirements for course directors and presenters at our Annual Meeting.

This month, many of you will receive a reminder about the AAOS Disclosure Database. As our Chief Education Officer Mark Wieting noted in last month’s AAOS Now, the trend toward transparency is growing. I encourage every AAOS fellow—even those with no conflicts—to enter your disclosure information at www.aaos.org/disclosure so that it is on the record, for examination by your peers. The database information is not currently available to the public but I would welcome your thoughts on whether we should open it up beyond our membership.

As a further step, the new Center for Orthopaedic Advancement will guarantee

that conflict of interest is never involved in decisions about funding educational programs (See September 2008 AAOS Now, “AAOS announces Center for Orthopaedic Advancement”). This entity will be completely free of potential conflicts of interest, and no member of its board of directors will have any current or past (3-year limit) personal or institutional relationship with an orthopaedic device or pharmaceutical manufacturer.

And, of course, our public and media relations efforts will continue to focus on the compassionate care that orthopaedic surgeons provide to all patients. The 2008 PSAs, in particular, depict the difference orthopaedic surgery made in the lives of four patients: one who has scoliosis, another who contracted polio, a third who was injured in a motorcycle accident, and the fourth—a physician herself—who needed joint replacement surgery so that she could continue to serve her own patients.

What you can do
Orthopaedic surgeons care deeply, and I know many AAOS fellows whose humanitarian efforts in the United States and around the world have improved the lives of thousands—perhaps even hundreds of thousands—of individuals with a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions. We need to be proactive and spread this message.

I encourage you to take advantage of Academy resources. Participate in the disclosure program. If you meet the criteria for positions with the Center for Orthopaedic Advancement, go to the Committee Appointment Program Web site (www.aaos.org/cap) and apply to serve.

Help the AAOS get the message out to patients and the public. Use the PSAs in your offices; they are available to you for free in both poster and postcard formats. Download the prerecorded announcements available for your telephone answering systems. Use the Community Orthopaedic Awareness Program slide presentations at health fairs and community outreach events.

I also encourage you to make a contribution to the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee. Each contribution you make helps ensure that the voice of orthopaedics will be heard at both the state and federal level. Get to know your legislators. They need to understand the importance of our specialty to their constituents.

Each of us, in our own way, must continue to champion our patients’ interests. We have the ability to help patients live their lives to the fullest—to enable children to stand straight, athletes to return to the sports they love, the elderly to live independent lives. We don’t need to improve that image, but we must project it in all we do.