ACC Legislative Conference 2017 – A Message to the Fellow in Training Grassroots

The recent ACC Legislative Conference took place September 10 – 12 at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, DC and on Capitol Hill. Among the conference highlights for FITs and Early Career Section members was the inaugural pre-conference held on Sept. 10. FIT and Early Career members of the College had the opportunity to hear from FIT and Early Career Section Chairs, Poonam Velagapudi, MD, MS, and Anthony Hilliard, MD, FACC, as well as current and past ACC Presidents Mary Norine Walsh, MD, FACC, and Kim Allan Williams, MD, MACC, as they discussed the importance of advocacy for cardiologists and their patients.

One of the many highlights of the session was a presentation delivered by Kelly Memphis, state government affairs associate for ACC Advocacy, titled “Advocacy 101 and Grassroots Opportunities.” Ms. Memphis began by simply defining the concept of “grassroots” as direct communication between constituents and their legislators and policymakers, with the purpose of building relationships to achieve mutual goals. In the ensuing discussion, she outlined a number of important ways that engagement at the state level is both practical and pragmatic, which are imperative factors for FITs with significant training obligations and other competing demands who still wish to make an impact through advocacy.

Ms. Memphis also noted that many state-level lawmakers spend a great portion of time in their home states, increasing their accessibility and rendering them effective partners for important initiatives. This understanding serves as the basis for ACC’s promotion of increased engagement at the state level in fiscal year 2017 – 2018, and as outlined in her presentation, many opportunities exist to achieve this aim with support from the ACC:

• Legislator Practice Visit Program: This program involves arranging for legislators to spend time at interested cardiology practices and training programs to both observe the successful aspects of current care delivery and highlight areas for improvement, particularly as they relate to electronic health record requirements, new payment models, and other unique issues of concern to the practice.

• Meeting with legislators (state or federal): After receiving practical tips and talking points at the ACC Legislative Conference, one hope is that cardiologists, including FITs, will apply those skills in their own respective states as a long-term investment in advocacy to benefit their patients and the larger cardiology community. Arranging to meet with legislators in their home states can serve as an important conduit to achieving this goal.

• Testimony at state legislative hearings: One particularly interesting (and likely underutilized) service offered by ACC Advocacy is the ability to help cardiologists track legislative sessions in their states to identify key pieces of legislation, which may benefit from cardiologist input. The ACC can also help support clinicians to offer testimony at pertinent hearings at the state level. As C. Michael Valentine, MD, FACC highlighted later in the session, one benefit of regularly meeting with state legislators and policymakers is the ability to establish oneself as an authority and advisor on policies which may have direct bearing on the practice of cardiology.

• State lobby days: Avoiding the potential challenges of individual advocacy efforts, group efforts like the ACC Legislative Conference and subsequent visits to Capitol Hill may be desirable at the state chapter level. Group efforts can help rally cardiologists, FITs and other cardiovascular clinicians and stakeholders around mutual goals, as well as show solidarity and help the group’s “collective voice” to be heard by legislators.

• ACC Action Alerts: An important service ACC Advocacy provides to members is “Action Alerts,” a mass notification system which quickly gets the word out about important issues at both the state and federal levels. Action Alerts also allow members to quickly and easily communicate directly with legislators to express support or dissent on impending policies that significantly impact the practice of cardiology and safety of patients. In an exciting development, pending updates to the current system will add the option of calling or tweeting legislators, in addition to contacting them by e-mail, all with just a few simple clicks. Action Alerts are a very effective way to mobilize ACC members and help the voices of cardiologists reach their representatives at the state and federal levels. Action Alerts arrive in members’ e-mail inboxes with subject lines like “Take action today!” or “Make your voice heard!”

• Twitter and other social media: Interest in different types of social media engagement has continued to grow within the cardiology community. As shown through multiple sessions devoted to the topic at recent national conferences, including the ACC Legislative Conference, ACC members have benefited from the ability to engage their legislators through Twitter and other social media outlets, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. One of the highlights of ACC member visits to Capitol Hill on Sept. 12 was the steady stream of photos from various ACC state chapter delegations at their respective representatives’ offices (search Twitter hashtag #ACCLegConf for more). The power of social media to highlight important initiatives and galvanize support, particularly in the political arena, has never been greater!

• Letters to the editor and other media outreach: Last but not least, ACC grassroots advocacy can certainly be achieved through traditional print media, such as letters to the editors of pertinent journals, publication in local newspapers, hospital and health system publications, and even television news coverage, depending on the issue and its scope.

Opportunities to participate in advocacy abound for FITs and early career cardiologists, not only in Washington, DC and on Capitol Hill, but also (and perhaps more importantly) at the state level. While the ACC Legislative Conference is a tour de force in bringing even the most uninitiated members of the cardiology community up to speed on the current issues facing clinicians and their patients, there is much more work to be done throughout the rest of the year to bring these initiatives – and others of equal or greater merit – to fruition. As highlighted in Ms. Memphis’ excellent presentation and expanded herein, getting involved can be as simple as writing a letter, sending an e-mail or creating a Twitter account. For those who find a calling in advocacy, the ACC has excellent support mechanisms to escalate the level of engagement on par with the individual’s or group’s interest and commitment.

This article was authored by Mohammad-Ali Jazayeri, MD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at the University of Kansas Medical Center.