Physicians Depart From Conference to Rally on Capitol Hill

Ingrid Hein

May 25, 2017

ATS President Marc Moss, MD

WASHINGTON — Nearly 500 physicians, researchers, and academics attending the American Thoracic Society (ATS) 2017 International Conference joined the Lab Coats for Lungs rally on Capitol Hill Tuesday to advocate for continued research funding, tobacco regulation, affordable healthcare, and clean air.

"What do we want?" they chanted.

"Evidence-based science."

"When do we want it?"

"After peer review!"

"Science thrives in openness, in sharing, and in collaboration," ATS President Marc Moss, MD, told the crowd just 2 hours after his inauguration. "And science has delivered."

"In my lifetime, I have seen science revolutionize the treatment of preterm infants. Cystic fibrosis has moved from a disease in which children rarely reach adolescence to one in which patients reach middle age. This is just a sample of the power of science," he pointed out.

"We don't rally today because we want to, we rally today because we have to," said rally organizer Gary Ewart, chief of advocacy and government relations at the ATS. "There are political forces in our world today that we find deeply troubling," he continued. "What used to be truth and facts and science and honest political discourse seems to have lost currency in both congress and our culture."

A Tradition of Advocacy, but Rally a First

ATS members demonstrating

The rally at the Capitol was a first for the ATS, but the society is no stranger to advocacy work, which has been central to the society's mission since its founding in 1905.

On ATS Hill Day, which took place March 29 this year, more than 40 ATS members and patient advocates from 23 states met with legislators to discuss pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine in an effort to maintain funding for the National Institutes of Health.

"We're very concerned about the way the administration is viewing research, the NIH, and healthcare," Dr Moss told Medscape Medical News. "It says a lot, the fact that members are taking time out of the conference to do a rally."

The only way researchers are going to advance science and take care of patients is through research. "We want to make sure we can continue to do our research to identify new therapies, make discoveries, and find cures for disease," he explained. "To do that, we really will need to increase our advocacy efforts."

Despite the rain, the 500-strong crowd stayed until the end.

"It was well organized," said Robert Tighe, MD, from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Doctors have been out of the healthcare conversation too long.

It is important that doctors and researchers become more vocal, he told Medscape Medical News. Doctors have been out of the healthcare conversation too long. We need to be part of the discussion about what it means to get healthcare, how to deliver healthcare, how to access it, and what it means to have measures that define quality, "rather than having those measures of quality being decided for us."

Being close to patients means that "my role is not to make statements one way or another about political views," Dr Tighe pointed out. But we need to advocate for patients' rights, even if we are uncomfortable doing that.

The relationship we have with patients and funders is complicated, he explained. "Physicians feel that if they speak too much, people will think, 'You're just looking for money.' As a result, we're no longer part of the conversation. That really has to change."

Follow Medscape Pulmonary Medicine on Twitter @MedscapeLung and Ingrid Hein @ingridhein

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