AMA communications efforts help physicians to serve

A message to all physicians from AMA President John C. Nelson, MD, MPH.

By John C. Nelson, MD, MPHis an obstetrician-gynecologist from Salt Lake City, Utah, and was AMA president during 2004-05. Posted Dec. 20, 2004.

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According to Gallup and McLaughlin surveys, the AMA enjoys enormous prestige among all Americans -- more than 70% favorable ratings. This is due, in some measure, to the effectiveness of our communications.

Our AMA has a communications system unrivaled among nonprofits and has a brand identity rooted in our 157 years of excellence.

We employ both traditional and leading-edge technologies to reach a diverse set of publics -- members, nonmember physicians, opinion leaders, legislators and regulators, and average Americans, our patients.

Our communications efforts, as with all else we do, are aimed at helping physicians help patients, to galvanize physicians to work together on behalf of those who trust us to supply the finest medical care in the world.

A brief summary of communications activities gives you a feel for the breadth and depth of our efforts.

Media relations earns its way into the press and onto the airwaves on the merits of the newsworthiness of AMA activities and campaigns. No comparable professional association in the nation enjoys the volume and prestige of AMA visibility. The current rate of visibility totals more than 50,000 AMA stories per year in the media.

Keeping our name front and center in the news, the AMA media relations team will have distributed approximately 400 news releases this year, generated more than 30 letters to editors, held 25 editorial board visits and submitted two dozen opinion articles by board members to editorial page editors.

A variety of news briefings and conferences further cement the AMA's reputation with science writers, editors and news directors of major broadcast outlets.

In all, half the coverage comes from daily newspapers; a quarter from television; 7%, Internet sources; 7%, wire services (Associated Press, Reuters); 5%, trade press; 3%, nondaily newspapers; and 2% each, radio and magazine "hits."

The Journal of the American Medical Association and its nine Archives journals have a combined circulation of nearly 1 million, showcasing their considerable communicative powers weekly.

In fact, AMA's peer-reviewed scientific journals have set the standard of medical research and clinically useful information for more than 120 years. Media coverage of JAMA/Archives studies during the past year exceeds 13,500 articles, while another 17 million viewers see the JAMA Report video news release each week.

The AMA Internet Web site is visited about 450,000 times a day by physicians and patients. Now under top-to-bottom redesign, the site is a must-see venue full of breaking news, policy and reports -- the information storehouse of the Association.

The AMA Voice family of publications connects member physicians, via both print and e-mail (AMA eVoice), to the AMA. These vehicles are dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of the AMA and its members while providing members with the tools, guidance and motivation they need to play an active role in shaping the future of medicine. Starting in 2005, members will be sent regular advocacy updates and alerts, keeping them in touch with hot topics at the forefront of AMA activity.

Speeches before key audiences within the House of Medicine and to opinion leaders in the general public give officers first-hand contact. In 2004, the AMA spoke formally to more than 275 audiences, a 38% increase over 2003. In 2005, the AMA's inventory of speaking venues will broaden to reach key audiences outside the Federation to expand the audience for AMA positions and programs.

The AMA's National House Call is a nationwide campaign to bring top health care issues into public debate. Since December 1999, House Call teams have made nearly 800 appearances in more than 150 cities in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Recently focused on medical liability reform, the National House Call met with thousands of patients and physicians, with presidential candidates, governors, state and federal officials of every stripe, and hundreds of reporters, editors, and television and radio news crews.

Roundtables are the AMA's newest face-to-face communications tool. In pilot roundtables this year in Detroit and Philadelphia, scores of physicians sat down with AMA leaders to exchange ideas and update each other on key concerns. Based on the success of the pilots, 15 roundtables are scheduled for 2005.

Last, but certainly not least, is the publication you're reading right now. AMNews was founded in 1958 and reaches 248,000 physicians every week, covering the news and opinions of our profession as no other publication can.

The achievement of communications programs is important for one final reason. And that has to do with the fragmentation of the media in the 21st century.

Time was when journalists published or aired complete, unbiased reports. Today's journalists publish and broadcast bits of sound bites spiced with the reporter's interpretation. Often what is not reported is more important than what is.

The result is the junk science scare stories we are all familiar with and the one-sided or lopsided reporting that drives up our blood pressures but adds little to the sum of human knowledge.

As the credibility (and audiences) for traditional news sources declines, the American Medical Association stands as a beacon of factual, evidence-based information our patients can rely on when their usual sources of information lack credibility.

Our current campaign regarding the sustainable growth rate (SGR) is a case in point. We are using all the media and all our ingenuity to tell of the inequities and inefficiencies of the old SGR model, the desperate need for reform and our proposal to improve the model -- not in terms of physician benefit but in terms of patient benefit.

The public has a right to know -- a need to know -- the frightening consequences of 5% per year SGR cuts scheduled from 2006 to 2012. Current and prospective Medicare patients need to understand that the availability of physicians to treat them will evaporate if those doctors are not recompensed fairly.

In many ways, through many channels, to many audiences, AMA Communications is telling that story and telling it effectively.

To be effective, communications has to be a two-way street.

The newly launched Roundtable series is one example of establishing and using feedback to better focus our advocacy programs, better serve the physicians of America. Knowing your concerns and hearing your suggestions builds a sounder, stronger AMA.

Our communications team is yet another reason that I am proud to be a member of the AMA.

John C. Nelson, MD, MPH is an obstetrician-gynecologist from Salt Lake City, Utah, and was AMA president during 2004-05.

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