Harnessing the power of the physician voice to help achieve health equity


There are times when the challenges we face in healthcare appear insurmountable. Despite the best efforts of physicians, health trends are moving in the wrong direction.

Our nation, the richest in the world, has rising rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Maternal mortality is increasing. Life expectancy rose slightly in 2018, but it was the first increase in years. These trends aren’t just alarming—they are tragic. And they are a call to action.

At the same time, I am encouraged by what I see as I travel around the country—physicians and other healthcare professionals who are passionate about improving the health of their patients and communities, and who are dedicated to achieving greater equity for those who experience worse health outcomes because of inequities.

I’m thinking about people like Dr. Richard Izquierdo, a family physician in the Bronx for nearly 60 years. Izquierdo, one of the few physicians in his predominately Latino community, went on to establish the San Juan Health Center (later called the Urban Health Plan), a community health center that now ranks among the largest in the state.

I’m thinking about people like Dr. Ellen Provost, an osteopath, who has spent her long career working to improve health outcomes for the Alaska Native population in Bethel, Alaska. And people like Dr. Dileep Bal, a physician and public health administrator in Hawaii who’s dedicated his career to preventing cancer and reducing smoking and obesity rates in underserved populations.

Each of them received the American Medical Association’s highest honor, the Nathan Davis Award, for their lifelong service to high-needs communities.

Many people talk about doing what’s right for healthcare. But as physicians, we don’t have the luxury of just talking about it. We must walk the walk. That’s why at the AMA, our collective efforts are focused on three important issues that are critical to improving our health system:

  • Removing obstacles that interfere with patient care;
  • Leading the charge to confront public health crises, and
  • Driving the future of medicine through improved technology, physician training, and education.

Through advocacy and by influencing public policy, we fight to ensure that patients have access to the health coverage they need. We stand up for the uninsured and underinsured, and for anyone who fears the next medical bill could drain their family’s savings.

Through advocacy, we help physicians better care for patients diagnosed with a substance use disorder, and we call on policymakers to enforce mental health parity laws.

Through advocacy, we fight for common-sense gun laws to keep our communities and neighborhoods safe. And it’s through advocacy that we pull back the curtain on the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.

We are not afraid to go where the evidence leads, even if it requires a change in the way we do business.

The evidence tells us our country’s history of discriminatory policies has led to health disparities that persist today for women, low-income families and communities of color. We have a moral imperative to address these issues.

Our long-term goals are to champion health equity, expand access to care, and promote greater diversity within the medical workforce—actions we know improve health outcomes. We are focused on achieving these goals through investment, strategic partnerships and advocacy across the nation.

Today, more than ever, we need partners and collaborators to achieve our goal of making our health system more affordable and more effective, with better results for everyone involved. We need a team of allies working together to truly improve the health of the nation.

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