Good medicine is a global goal

Organized medicine here is helped by its involvement with a physician organization that has a worldwide perspective.

Posted Oct. 25, 2004.

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The concept of "globalization," so much in vogue whenever the discussion turns to economics, technology or social issues, applies to medicine as well. It has become a constant fact of life for the greater medical community, and one that carries both positive and negative connotations.

The Internet is an example of the positive potential of globalization in furthering medical research and patient care. The near-instantaneous transmission of data and the ability to exchange ideas and thoughts with colleagues around the world at the touch of a button has led the way to new levels of cooperation and collaboration.

On the other hand, airline jet travel has made possible the spread of communicable diseases in a matter of hours or days, bringing new pressures to the public health community. The threat of terrorist action, including bioterrorism, brings even more urgency to the situation.

It was in the wake of a global calamity of a different type -- the horrors of Word War II -- that physicians from 27 national medical associations got together in 1947 to officially create the World Medical Assn. That meeting in Paris was a recognition that physicians around the world shared a commonality of knowledge and interests and that the time had come to formalize a mechanism to address mutual concerns.

Medical ethics have long been a central theme of WMA activity. The WMA's first major policy declaration was the now well-known Declaration of Helsinki, a statement of ethical principles first put forth in 1964 to provide guidance to physicians and other participants in medical research involving human subjects. Just last month, on Sept. 18, the WMA member organizations celebrated the first world Medical Ethics Day.

Over the years, the WMA's agenda has been shaped by societal and scientific changes to include such diverse issues as the threat of worldwide epidemics, patient safety, reproductive medicine, living wills and the threat to the quality of medical education posed by the growing number of medical schools.

This month, the 55th General Assembly of the WMA meets in Tokyo and is under way as we prepare to go to press. Now about 80 nations are represented, and the issues spotlighted at the meeting reflect both traditional and up-to-the-minute WMA concerns -- "Advanced Medical Technology and Medical Ethics" and "The Internet and Health Care."

The American Medical Association was a founding member of the WMA and has been a leader within the organization. At this month's meeting, former AMA President Yank D. Coble Jr., MD, becomes the WMA president for 2004- 05.

The AMA's membership and involvement in the WMA provide a number of significant benefits for the Association and for American physicians. The AMA and American medicine in general are showcased in a major world forum, at the same time fulfilling the obligation to share knowledge. Interaction with physicians from a wide range of cultures and with many levels of technology at their disposal paves the way for identifying emerging issues and finding solutions to mutual problems.

In addition, the AMA is involved in a number of other international activities, including business ventures involving CPT coding and foreign-language editors of scientific journals. Participation in the WMA provides a solid base for those activities, allowing the formation of relationships with counterpart organizations.

Progress, global and otherwise, relies on both who you know and what you know. The relationships that flow from involvement in the WMA helps organized medicine, the physicians it serves and patients in an increasingly interconnected world.

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