“Blood pressure dangerously low… sophisticated IVs and monitors… as physician anesthesiologists, we are the cardiologists, the pulmonologists, and the critical care specialists when seconds count in the operating room.”
As I heard my colleagues from around the country describing what they do, never have I been so proud to be in a profession that makes such an impact in our patients’ lives. These were only just a few stories mentioned at the kickoff of the three-day ASA Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. on May 16-18, where attendees learned how to communicate the value physician anesthesiologists bring to our patients so that it’s clear to legislators and the general public.
We made good use of that communication training when we made personal visits to the offices of California Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill, talking about our work and about vital issues to California patients. Chief among these were the VA proposal to eliminate physicians from VA anesthesia care, and the opioid abuse epidemic.
The power of a good story is priceless. Since most of our patients are asleep, and surgeons often don’t know exactly what happens on the other side of the screen, it is up to us to explain to others the critical role physician anesthesiologists play.
That is why media experts at the conference helped train ASA attendees on how to craft our daily, seemingly routine perioperative experiences into interesting stories that artfully illustrate the level of intensity and degree of difficulty of our profession, the split-second decisions we must make, and how to articulate what separates us from non-physician practitioners.
This training taught participants how to effectively communicate our message to the public and policymakers that the value physiciananesthesiologists bring to the medical community is unrivaled, and should not be underestimated.
Attendees were able to put our training into action. We briefed legislators about the VHA Nursing Handbook, and how it would affect the quality of anesthesia care for our nation’s veterans. The VA’s proposed policy would mandate full-practice authority for all Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), including nurse anesthetists, so that they would have to practice on their own — without physician oversight, supervision or direction — in all states and in all VA facilities, even if this policy conflicts with state laws.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County), a US Air Force Colonel, who is very well versed in VA issues. As I walked into his Capitol Hill office, I immediately noticed a lovely, large canvas picture of his wife and two sons. It was evident that he is a devoted family man and that the military has played a significant role in his life. Naturally, the VA Handbook was high on his radar, and I am thankful for Congressman Lieu’s unwavering support of our fight to keep veterans safe.
Although I do not work in a VA hospital, I too am committed to advocating for veterans and preventing this disastrous policy from going into effect, and I encourage you to do the same. This change would dramatically lower the standard of care our veterans receive. We must intervene, right now, to save patients’ lives and the specialty of anesthesiology — while seconds still count. Our veterans have fought hard for us. Now it's our turn to fight for them.
Visit SafeVACare.org today to submit your comment, and help ensure that America’s brave men and women have access to the highest quality health care.
The opioid prescription epidemic was another big topic of conversation. Given our daily use of opioids, we as physicians must educate our patients on the dangers of abuse and the signs and symptoms of an overdose. A multimodal approach, including interventional techniques when appropriate, can help protect patients from narcotic habituation. All of our years of training have equipped us to be experts in this area, and we have a responsibility to be leaders in the fight against opioid overuse.
We also learned how new Medicare payment models will affect how medicine, in general, is viewed and compensated. With at least another 30 years before retirement age, I personally am concerned how this will shape my career and financial stability in the future. It is still unclear how the new proposed Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) will affect anesthesiology. However, with our specialty already unique in its payment structure, we need to ensure that our work is fairly and appropriately accounted for in new payment strategies. The ASA is already working diligently to understand the 950-plus page legislation, and how it will affect our profession.
Throughout the rest of the conference, we heard from Congressional and ASA leaders about the importance of advocacy. As part of our professional duty, it is imperative that we advocate not just for our patients, but also for our profession. Luckily, the two come hand-in-hand.
Our anesthesiology professional societies at the state and national levels are working hand-in-hand to help our patients, the public, and you. Please be engaged in the issues affecting your patients and profession. If you cannot give your time, then please contribute to GASPAC and ASAPAC so we can continue fighting to protect our patients and our profession.