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Advocacy in gastroenterology: Advancing health policies for our patients and our profession


Physician advocacy is an important tool for health care professionals to protect patients and the vitality of the profession. Medical associations across the spectrum participate in advocacy because of its value in preserving the beneficial role of physicians in health care policy decision making. This is especially true for specialty physician associations, like the American Gastroenterological Association, which represents more than 9,000 U.S. GI physicians and researchers. Advocacy allows for the voice of GIs and their patients to be heard on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and among various regulatory agencies. When we advocate as a profession, we help ensure good policies gain momentum and halt harmful legislative or regulatory efforts from enactment.

What is physician advocacy?

Physicians are advocating every day for their patients by helping patients make the right decisions about their care. This naturally translates into advocacy at the health policy level. Advocacy is lobbying. While that word may take on a negative meaning for some, it also means being a persuasive communicator, passionate educator, and a leader. National associations, like AGA, often call on members to do just that: educate lawmakers on policies affecting GI, communicate how policies could affect lawmakers’ constituencies back in their respective districts, and lead others to support GI policy agendas.

Physician advocacy works. AGA had its busiest year for policy work, but this was coupled with a large uptick in GI advocacy engagement. The public health emergency placed many burdens on the health care community and our profession. However, through our advocacy work, we also saw many changes, including increased federal research funding for digestive diseases and GI cancers, passage of legislation to remove patients’ barriers to colorectal cancer screening, increased regulatory and reimbursement flexibilities incorporated to ensure physicians could continue to deliver timely care, and creation of federal financial and small business relief programs to support gastroenterology practices.

Physician advocacy in GI is especially critical because specialty care is often viewed as having a smaller voice when compared with those of the larger bodies, such as primary care, surgery, or emergency physicians. As a health care specialty with a known shortage across the United States, we need all the help we can get to inform policy makers of our position on controversial policies. In many cases, non–health care professionals are informing policy makers on how to address issues that impact our profession. Additionally, there is a lack of knowledge about health care complexities and needs among decision makers who are ultimately determining how health care is delivered. As health care experts, we are best suited to educate lawmakers on the true impact of health policies. If we do not engage and educate policy makers, our profession and patients will suffer the consequences.


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