Since I took office as AAOS president at the Annual Meeting in San Diego, I’ve actually been spending a fair amount of time on the opposite coast—in Washington, D.C. It’s been a reminder that AAOS not only stands for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the educational 501(c)3 organization that is the premier educator of orthopaedic surgeons, it also stands for the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the 501(c)6 organization that advocates on behalf of patients and physicians. And when it comes to advocacy, education is key.
Advocating for research
In March, for example, I joined patients, researchers, clinician scientists, and orthopaedic surgeons who were participating in the AAOS Research Capitol Hill (RCH) Days, an annual event promoting federal funding for musculoskeletal research. As we all know, the burden of musculoskeletal disease is huge, costing the economy up to $850 billion annually and representing nearly 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Although research funding is always a challenge, this year’s participants faced an especially difficult budget climate.
More than 60 orthopaedic patients, surgeons, and researchers participated in the 2011 RCH Days. The AAOS has long promoted federal funding of musculoskeletal research, and RCH Days, which were initiated in 2005, brings actual patients with musculoskeletal problems and the researchers who are working to solve those problems to meet with members of Congress, thus giving a “face” to orthopaedic research.
During the 2-day event, participants receive advocacy training and spend a day “on the Hill,” talking to members of Congress and their staffs. The AAOS office of government relations conducted the advocacy training sessions and armed doctor and patient participants with the facts and statistics to make a difference. During their visits, participants advocated for the future of musculoskeletal care and stressed the importance of continued support of research funding.
To have the greatest impact, the AAOS office of government relations actively sought physicians and patients from districts whose representatives hold key posts on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. Coverage of the 2011 RCH event appeared in the May issue of AAOS Now; I also encourage you to review the book “Faces of Orthopaedics,” which you can find on the AAOS Web site.
I was impressed by the dedication of these researchers and their patients and by the efforts of our DC office in helping to ensure that everything ran smoothly. The importance of these efforts was underscored during a meeting we had with Stephen I. Katz, MD, PhD, director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which is one of the National Institutes of Health and the federal agency that supports most arthritis and musculoskeletal research.
“Almost every household in America is affected in some way by diseases of bones, joints, muscles, and skin, diseases that are the mission areas of the NIAMS,” said Dr. Katz. “Research in bones, joints, muscles, and skin will result in scientific progress and improved health for the public, and I appreciate the efforts of the AAOS in encouraging increasing federal funding for such research.”
Dr. Katz also emphasized the importance of patient advocates, who, as constituents, can make a significant impression on members of Congress.
Cherry blossoms and Congress
In April, I joined more than 400 AAOS members for the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference (NOLC). This gathering of orthopaedic leaders from around the country, which has been held annually for more than 25 years, originated as one of the three annual Board of Councilor (BOC) meetings and, for the past several years, has also included representatives from the Board of Specialty Societies (BOS), and state and regional orthopaedic officers and staff.
It’s an opportunity for BOC and BOS members to meet, both together and separately, and discuss issues of concern. If the BOC is the orthopaedic community’s “grass roots” representative advisory body, the BOS is the voice of specialty societies. Working together, they exemplify orthopaedic unity at its best.
You can thank the BOC resolutions process, and its (in)famous “open microphone” sessions for taking the AAOS in many important new directions, including the professional compliance program and our award-winning public relations programs. Councilors are elected by their state societies and serve a 3-year term, with the option to serve a second term. The number of councilors per state varies, based on the number of AAOS members in that state; each state is guaranteed at least one councilor. In addition, four regional societies and each branch of the military (Army, Navy, and Air Force) also have a BOC representative.
The 22 member societies of the BOS represent the entire spectrum of orthopaedic specialties. The BOS brings together the leaders of these societies to address issues of mutual concern, such as advocacy, continuing medical education, research, and residency and fellowship issues. Each society may appoint up to six representatives, at least one of whom must be part of the society’s presidential line. Representatives serve for 3 years and may be reappointed for an additional 3 years.
In addition to bringing the BOC and BOS together, the NOLC also provides the opportunity for attendees to meet with their congressional representatives to lobby for action on issues of concern to the orthopaedic community. Although the “hot topics” may change slightly from year to year, issues such as a permanent fix to the Medicare sustainable growth rate formula and medical liability reform frequently top the list. This year, delegates also urged their Congressional representative to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and to support the introduction of the Access to America’s Orthopaedic Services (AAOS) bill.
Just as important are the educational sessions held for NOLC participants. My compliments to cochairs David Teuscher, MD, and Jeffrey Anglen, MD, for the program they put together. AAOS Now coverage of the NOLC began last month, and you can read more in this issue (see “Rules, reforms, and regulations, Part 2”).
It is always invigorating to be among a group of concerned, committed orthopaedists, and attendees at the NOLC are among our most energetic proponents of orthopaedic engagement with our political and community leaders. This engagement has driven important initiatives—such as the seat belt laws championed by my colleague and AAOS First Vice-President John R. Tongue, MD.
NOLC participants are also among the most supportive members of the AAOS Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC). For several years, staff in the AAOS office of government relations—and in particular our tireless Past President Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, who now chairs the AAOS Orthopaedic PAC—have been making contacts, fostering relationships, and building the advocacy base on behalf of our profession. Those efforts are beginning to show results, and the AAOS was pleased to welcome House Deputy Whip Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.) as special guests to the NOLC.
William C. Martin III, MD, AAOS director of medical affairs and head of our office of government relations, welcomed NOLC attendees to our newly refurbished offices during an “after work” reception. The reconfigured space, at 317 Massachusetts Ave., NE, can now be used for fundraisers and other events. If you are visiting Washington, D.C., at any time in the near future, I encourage you to stop by and meet the staff who are working so hard on your behalf.
As orthopaedic surgeons, we have the unique opportunity to improve our patients’ lives. And in a time of tight budgets, it is worth pointing out to our lawmakers how cost-effective musculoskeletal care can be, because it keeps many younger people working and enables many seniors to live independently. I urge you to stay or become engaged in advocating for our patients and our profession.The AAOS provides many opportunities to become engaged; please find a role that suits you and join the effort!