The new ACP president pushes for health to be a right

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Key points:

  • The US health care system is “far behind where it should be,” the new ACP president said.
  • To address the issues of access to healthcare and equity, the ACP has presented and advocated for various national policies.

In April, Omar T. Atiq, MD, FACP, a professor of medicine and otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences, has been sworn in as the new president of the ACP.

Prior to his presidency, Atiq served as a member of the ACP Governing Council, chairman of the ACP Board of Governors, governor of the Arkansas Chapter of the ACP, chairman of the ACP Health and Public Policy Committee, and vice chairman of ethics of the ACP, Professionalism and Human Rights Committee.

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Healio spoke with Atiq about his priorities for the ACP, what the organization is doing to address some of the major health care issues, and more.

Helium: What are your priorities for the ACP?

Atq: ACP is unique in that its vision, mission and goals are always patient centered and patient care. All of our offers, whether they are educational offers or advocacy offers… are geared towards ensuring that the patient receives the appropriate care.

We have a fragmented and inefficient healthcare and healthcare system in our country. We take care of patients… but if you look at our statistics, our maternal mortality, infant mortality, the burden of preventable disease – from childhood to adult – we are far behind where we should be.

The incentives in our system are not aligned with patients’ interests. We don’t pay much attention to primary care and public health. We spend too much on administration, especially in the private realm, and there are barriers to assistance due to poverty, discrimination and equity issues.

Then, ACP developed a set of policy documents envisioning a health care system that addresses all of these concerns and more. We looked at the weaknesses of our disjointed system, including systemic discrimination, healthcare for indigenous peoples, incarcerated people and minorities in every way and tried to address it.

My goal as president and as an internal medicine physician is to do everything I can to advance the agenda of efficient, affordable, and patient-centered health care. The hope is that for our children and grandchildren and for future generations, we have a health system that achieves the goal of a healthy society.

Helium: What is the ACP doing to address some of the most pressing issues in health care right now?

Atq: Within a week of assuming my responsibilities as president of the ACP, I joined the leaders of five other medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Osteopathic Association, l ‘American Association of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology to move Congress on our agenda to achieve effective health care. Together we represent approximately 600,000 physicians, equal to approximately 60% of the medical workforce in our country.

We went to Washington, DC, and met with legislative leadership, specifically asking them to support the policies and laws that have been introduced to that end. It is necessary to have evidence-based policies to be able to implement them successfully. But without implementation, policies can only be intellectual activities.

We’ve all met with congressional legislative leadership urging them to align incentives in our system to deliver more efficient care, which the data will tell you relies on a well-oiled primary care machine: a physician-led primary care team, with other healthcare professionals they are an integral part of the team…and everyone works together to take care of people to keep them healthy.

A couple of weeks later, we had another day in the hills, ACP Leadership Day. About 400 physicians from around the country gathered again to meet with our respective states’ lawmakers, both Senators and Representatives, who are pushing for the same goal. We’ve had good responses. Washington works its own way in its day, but we hope to make progress, because at the end of the day health care is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue. It’s a human issue.

We have also tried to reduce administrative burdens for internal medicine doctors, things like prior authorizations, which are meaningless and cost a lot of time and money and are sometimes even harmful to the patient’s health. The cost of medicines and medical devices and the cost of healthcare in general need to be addressed. We’re looking at how we can provide not only insurance coverage, but also easy access to health care for people who don’t have the resources to do so.

Helium: What personal goals Do do you hope to achieve while in this role?

Atq: When you represent an organization, you are committed and obligated to the mission, goals and policies of the organization. If there are personal goals, those become subservient to those of the organization. My personal thrust, within the context of what I have just said, is to push, encourage and support a premise in which health, the maintenance of good health, the prevention of disease and the treatment or management of disease are accepted as a human right.

My goal is to advance the concept of a healthy population and a universal, effective healthcare system that results in a happier, more prosperous nation that is easily understood and accepted by all. if you could, where do we tie the ethical and moral obligation of all of us together to ensure that everyone around us, in as big a circle as we wish, that those moral and ethical obligations of trying to take care of each other, of trying to prevent illness and injury… is intertwined with the financial well-being of the nation.

I believe that a nation of healthy people and healthy individuals of a nation who are not concerned about their health and healthcare, a nation that actively promotes healthy living for all – no exclusions, no exceptions – and then provides needed health care to those who are injured or become ill, is a construct that would not only improve our health, happiness and longevity, but would also be an engine for economic development, even more so than seen so far. I’d like to see that happen, and in my own way, within the bounds of the system, I’m going to promote it.

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