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Organized Medicine and a Changing Landscape

By now, you are well aware of changes in traditional practice models, as more and more physicians increasingly choose employment arrangements. Meanwhile, all volunteer organizations, professional and otherwise, are seeing a decline in participation and involvement. While some may view declining membership as unfavorable to physician organizations, I propose that it provides an opportunity for us to gain strength and unite to address the forces working to change the health care landscape and the physician-patient relationship.

As a practicing internist, I was once a member of both the American Society of Internal Medicine and the American College of Physicians (ACP). At the time, ACP was the group representing the academic community. As many of you know, these two organizations decided to merge into one stronger organization, of which I am still a member. Maybe now is the time for the multitude of physician organizations to consider opportunities to merge forces, in an effort to maintain membership and relevance.

While not meant to single out a particular specialty, my simple online search for gastroenterology returned multiple organizations, including the American Gastroenterology Association, American College of Gastroenterology, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons, not to mention organizations for specific diseases or pediatric versions of these societies. While some benefit might accrue to having many organizations, consolidation of medical specialty societies to mirror the consolidation in the health care delivery system might be an idea whose time has come.

Traditionally, one’s specialty society has been a source of specialty education. The county and state medical societies have provided political advocacy at the local and state levels. With increased access to low-cost, high-quality CME, and the increased scrutiny of medical practice by government and third-party payers, the time is upon us to strengthen the advocacy of all physicians, regardless of practice mode.

Employed physicians practice under the same regulations and political forces as independent physicians. And the organization that signs an employed physician’s paycheck is dependent on fair pay for physician services. With this in mind, we must show our colleagues the value and benefit of belonging to the Chicago Medical Society and Illinois State Medical Society. It will take members of specialty groups to address the issues of internal politics and leadership when considering mergers. Individual members must be the catalyst to stimulate such discussions. And if groups don’t ultimately consolidate, they likely will be more focused in their mission to members.

We physicians should be looking for ways to speak with one voice to government and payers on key issues. When it really matters, we are stronger together. Please remind and encourage your colleagues to renew or join organized medicine.

Howard Axe, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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