Change is opportunity as we face an array of challenges

A message to all physicians from Robert M. Wah, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees.

By Robert M. Wah, MDis a reproductive endocrinologist and ob-gyn in McLean, Va. He was chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2011-12 and is currently AMA president-elect. Posted July 18, 2011.

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As I take over as chair of the Board of Trustees with our seven new members, an AMA with a new executive vice president and a new JAMA editor -- in a nation working on the details of health system reform during tough economic times and an already-heating-up presidential campaign season -- I am quite excited.

With all this change, I see opportunity -- and I always want to maximize opportunities.

We are all well aware of the many challenges we face in medicine today as we seek, above all, to preserve the doctor-patient relationship. From legislative issues like liability reform, SGR repeal, the 2014 impacts of the Affordable Care Act, to the critical role physicians serve in health care today and will play in the future with possible accountable care organizations, to overseeing needed changes in medical education and increasing residency slots -- our AMA has plenty to do.

There are many forces out there. Now more than ever, physicians must come together, bring our collective voice and clout to address and resolve those issues we face every day in our offices and operating rooms that hinder our ability to take the best care of our patients. To those who are not AMA members, I ask you to please join your colleagues who devote time, talent and other resources on behalf of our profession and patients. To AMA members, I thank you for your involvement and support. I hope you will invite your fellow physicians to join us during these critical times.

Today, even while we are making the united voice of our profession heard loud and clear in Washington and in our statehouses, we are also positioning the AMA for the road ahead.

Our new Board of Trustees is particularly suited to the challenges we face. This is a historic board, I believe, with seven women, one of whom is African-American, and two Asians among our 21 members. When I saw former board Chair Lonnie Bristow, MD, in June, he was glad to welcome me as the second non-Caucasian board chair. The diversity of our backgrounds, experiences and expertise reflects the diversity of today's American medical community and gives me great hope for the vision we will bring to our AMA.

Since our founding in 1847, the AMA has spoken out and worked on behalf of America's physicians and our patients. We have sought to meet our profession's immediate needs, but we also have been an organization that looked to the future. In past years, we designed and improved medical education, wrote a code of ethics and worked for advances in public health.

I look forward to working with physicians across the country, the House of Delegates and the Council on Long Range Planning and Development as we set strategies for the coming year and the longer term, making sure we maximize every opportunity to provide innovative leadership in the continuing reform of the health care system.

Through our AMA, we are well positioned to make sure physicians continue our important role in improving health care for our patients.

We do this in two ways. My experience in the public and private sectors and as a Harvard Business School alumnus has shown me that successful, vibrant organizations need to be ambidextrous. That is, we need to do things with "both hands" -- or both sides of our organization brain.

One part of the organization is always focused on the core competencies and seeks excellence in all that it does. In the AMA, there are a lot of things that we do better than anyone else.

Some of those things include our championing of medical ethics, overseeing medical education, setting standards and improving quality for physicians and medical practice and being the strongest voice for physicians. The other group is much smaller. That is made up of the people who reach beyond the present, always on the lookout for the next opportunity.

Our AMA is simultaneously working hard in this area as well. One of the central questions to be addressed is: What will the medical profession of the future be? As we answer this question, we will develop the tools, technology and services that physicians will need in the future. Our health IT platform, Amagine, is a good example of this kind of work. So are our plans for mobile applications.

In my career as a naval officer, a physician and a teacher, I have been a member of both groups. I have sought excellence in teaching students, residents and fellows, improving surgical techniques and caring for my patients, but I also have always worked to look beyond the horizon. In my longtime involvement with health information technology at regional, national and global levels, I have been privileged to help create the future and set direction for the medical community's adoption of technology tools like e-prescribing, electronic health records and data analytics to help take better care of our patients.

It would be easy to look at the current controversy over health system reform and wring our hands. But that is not how I think, and that is not the way AMA has acted in the past. Our way is to look for opportunities instead of obstacles. We have convened physician experts from across the country to develop new ideas and models for delivery of health care. We will use this group of innovators to keep physicians and our AMA leading, and not following, in health system reform.

As chair, I look forward to working with our new Board of Trustees, the new EVP and new JAMA editor as we ensure the AMA stays a robust, vibrant organization that is agile in both our core competencies and in always exploring new opportunities. In this work, I need your help. I ask for your input, comments and suggestions. I want to increase the information flow to and from the board, so please contact me at the email address below. I also invite any AMA member to attend our board meetings.

This is an exciting time to assume a leadership role in the medical community. It is an honor and privilege to lead the board of the largest physician organization in the United States -- one that represents all physicians across specialty, geography, mode of practice and career stage. I appreciate the challenges we are facing, and I relish the opportunity we have as a board and as the AMA to make a difference and bring change -- the right kind of change -- to our American health system.

Robert M. Wah, MD is a reproductive endocrinologist and ob-gyn in McLean, Va. He was chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2011-12 and is currently AMA president-elect.

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