Reinventing the Traditional Medical Society
One option left for the profession is to reinvent existing organizations within the "house of medicine." Making them more responsive to physicians could build up membership, which enhances their clout with policymakers.
In 2011, the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) went through a total reorganization that reinvigorated the whole organization. Confronted with a loss of members, MAG's leadership decided that it had to be more representative of all physicians and brought in a new CEO, Donald J. Palmisano Jr., to accomplish this.
"There was a perception that a small group of physicians made the decisions," said Palmisano, who is the son of a former AMA president. The executive committee of MAG's Board of Trustees made the important decisions, and the rest of the members were apathetic. Only a little more than one half of the full board came to meetings, and only a little more than one half of delegates voted in MAG's House of Delegates.
To make individual members that feel their voice mattered, major policy actions are now always made by the House of Delegates. "If you have an issue, you need to bring it to our house," Palmisano said. "You've got to convince your peers."
MAG has not shied away from controversial issues, such as state certificate of need policies and Medicaid expansion in Georgia, which the house approved in 2013. "We're the forum for the major issues," Palmisano said. "The house can find a solution that can reconcile each group's interest."
To enhance its credibility, MAG aims to attract as many kinds of physicians as possible. "We see ourselves as representing the broad spectrum of physicians, from small practices to physicians at large, multispecialty academic institutions and health systems," Palmisano said.
There is a place within the organization for doctors who just want to focus on public health issues, such as the MAG Foundation's campaign to curb prescription drug abuse. MAG has even attracted employed physicians, the group that is supposed to shy away from organized medicine. Some of the large hospital systems have agreed to pay membership dues for all their employed physicians.
The results? MAG has seen a stunning 35% growth in membership since 2011. In a 2014 survey, 93% of MAG members agree that MAG is the leading voice for physicians in Georgia, 92% believe MAG is an effective advocate in the legislative arena, and nearly 80% say that MAG has a positive effect on their career as a physician.
MAG's success has proven that even though the medical profession is rife with division, physicians can reach across the aisle and forge compromises.
Says Palmisano, "We have found that when you bring a group of physicians together, they will find a solution."
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