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Taking My Voice to The Hill

by Meeta Pancholi, D.P.M., podiatry specialist

As physicians, we face challenges every day in our practices. But athenahealth recently presented me with a challenge I could not pass up: to share my voice "on the Hill," joining my colleagues on a trip to Washington, D.C. I was not certain that I would truly be heard, but given the chance to voice my concerns was a temptation too great and too important.

Fourteen athenahealth physicians, including me, representing large groups, small groups, specialties, primary care and pediatrics, were faced with the intimidating task of presenting our thoughts to Congressional staffers. Together, we discussed an array of issues currently before Congress, including the challenging transition to value-based care and the current barriers to health information exchange. 

Much like our own offices, it turns out the staff in D.C. tends to run the show behind the scenes. I was certain that we would be paid mere lip service. But I was surprised to find that these young staffers were most courteous, and engaged with us in an intellectual way. 

Two of the major issues being brought through the legislature at this time are the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) repeal and the 21st Century Cures Initiative. These bills will directly impact every provider as they look to deal with payment reforms, the development of new technologies and the interoperability of health IT (HIT) platforms. Interoperability is of particular interest -- as we push forward to Meaningful Use Stage 2, it has become one of the last major frontiers to conquer in HIT.

With the conversation very much a two-way street, something interesting occurred when we offered to provide input on ideas of concern to the staffers. They mentioned that most providers are concerned about ICD-10. Unanimously, as athenahealth clients, we could say that we weren't concerned about it.

It was quite an insight to realize that we on the athenahealth network have evolved beyond the concerns of mundane daily tasks and can actually focus on the issues that will shape the future of our health care system, like the transition away from fee-for-service and the ways to improve health outcomes. I believe we have a unique view on the potential of health care that could really be educational for policymakers. 

Throughout multiple sessions and through various groups, we provided Congressional staffers with examples of "ground zero" concerns relevant to these issues. Most certainly, they were taking notes.

What was the outcome? Time will tell. I for one left D.C. with a feeling of satisfaction that our voice was indeed heard. 

My hope is that Congress can continue to look to forward-thinking organizations (yes, like athenahealth) to be resources. Health care will remain a complex issue, with many facets to be addressed. We can only hope to continue being heard, to be directly involved in developing realistic changes to health care policy, one piece at a time, one conversation at a time. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. And the ancient Romans didn’t have to manage payment reform and interop hurdles… 

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