The AMA: A view beyond the Annual Meeting

A message to all physicians from Steven J. Stack, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees.

By Steven J. Stack, MD, an emergency medicine physician in Lexington, Ky., was chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2012-13. Posted July 16, 2012.

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As I sit to write this column, I have just returned from the AMA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. For those unaware, every leadership group within our AMA meets over the course of an eight-day period that culminates with the Annual Meeting of the House of Delegates.

It’s an amazing event. Thousands of physicians, medical students and medical association staff engage with one another to determine the policies and course to be taken by the AMA. And I mean thousands. They represent more than 185 state and specialty societies, the military, representatives from major national physician organizations, and the numerous guest leaders representing foreign national medical associations as well.

The House of Delegates truly is a crown jewel within our profession. It is unparalleled anywhere in the nation in its inclusive and comprehensive representation of physicians.

The formal meetings and the creation of AMA policies take place within a robustly democratic process both vigorously upheld and rightfully celebrated as it sets policies that influence not only our profession but the health of our nation. For first-time attendees, it can be an overwhelming experience. For seasoned participants, it both humbles and inspires.

What is truly exhilarating and leaves me awe-struck, though, is how many ways that our AMA convenes, represents, serves and leads our profession in addition to the work done in the House of Delegates.

Through our Council on Science and Public Health, Council on Medical Service (which focuses on socioeconomic policy matters), Council on Medical Education and Council on Ethical & Judicial Affairs, authoritative physician experts advise the House of Delegates. Additionally, the Councils on Legislation and Long Range Planning and Development directly advise the Board of Trustees.

As an example, the AMA’s Council on Medical Education has been at the heart of physician education for well over a century. And it was involved in creating the modern medical school curricula even before the landmark Flexner report in 1910. Later the council became involved in the promotion of physician self-regulation through state-based licensure, and ongoing engagement through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that accredits every allopathic medical school in the United States.

In other areas, the AMA-convened CPT Editorial Panel defines the procedural code set for physician professional services and the Physician Consortium for Performance Improvement creates the majority of performance improvement measures used in the United States.

All of these combine to ensure that physicians have direct input into the processes that uphold our profession’s longstanding commitments to quality, safety and ethical service.

JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the most widely circulated medical journal in the world, with 310,000 weekly readers. More than 20 million viewers see the JAMA Report, a weekly video and audio medical news service, annually. The entire family of AMA Archives journals is being integrated into a single platform bringing physicians an unparalleled ecosystem of cutting-edge research, vanguard commentary and continuing medical education opportunities. The JAMA Network, along with the more than 731,000 books and products sold last year, combine to make the AMA one of the largest and most impactful medical publishers in the world.

And it bears mentioning that the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, which was first drafted 165 years ago when the AMA was formed, is the definitive ethical code for all physicians in the United States.

In the legal arena, our AMA advocacy efforts are second to none. While most of us think first or only of AMA’s presence on Capitol Hill, AMA efforts in other venues are impressive. In the court system and in the statehouses the AMA ensures that physicians have a voice that is passionate, knowledgeable and committed to the highest standards of professionalism and patient care.

In fact, the AMA has fought for physicians in more than 200 court cases since 1995, often with precedent-setting results. Most recent and perhaps most well-known is the 12-year AMA-led court case against UnitedHealthcare Inc. that ultimately returned $200 million to physicians.

In the statehouses, AMA achieved more than 65 victories last year on issues ranging from health insurance reform to medical liability reform and scope of practice. When physicians need a powerful and heavy-hitting advocate, the AMA is there.

The activities described here only scratch the surface of our AMA’s work on behalf of our profession. There is much, much more.

Over the course of this upcoming year, I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you on some of the most pressing issues facing American medicine along with other aspects of the AMA Equation. That is, the various ways the AMA intersects in the lives of physicians through our HOD, direct membership, advocacy, research and education activities and practice tools.

It’s through these core connections and in partnership with our more than 217,000 individual members that the AMA is continuing 165 years of service by leading our profession through the challenges of our rapidly evolving health system.

With a full appreciation for the many challenges we face, I fully believe that the best days for physicians and our patients still lie ahead. Together, we are stronger.

Steven J. Stack, MD , an emergency medicine physician in Lexington, Ky., was chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2012-13.

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