Advocating for Patients

APR 07, 2017

To Physicians: 3 Ways to Advocate for Your Patients

Written by Peter Karth MD

Published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology here

Are you advocating for your patients? I’m guessing you are. If you aren’t, you should. In fact, you must. It’s what makes you a physician. 

Think about the time and effort you have spent getting a patient with giant cell arteritis in to see a rheumatologist urgently or to get an urgent MRI for a third nerve palsy on Friday afternoon. For ophthalmologists, advocating for our patients never stops. We take hospital call and emergency room call, see patients urgently at all times of the day and night. As physicians, we have said to patients, “I am committed to do all I can to treat or save your vision and eyes.”

If you knew that there may be danger or increasing risk to the eyes and vision of your patients or your community, wouldn’t you do something about? You should. You must. That means being an advocate for the eyes and vision of your patients and community in every way possible.

Keeping our promise to patients takes advocacy on a macro level, too. The critical components include building relationships with legislators and contributing to funds that protect quality patient eye care. 

Here are three ways young ophthalmologists are getting involved and advocate on behalf of their patients:

1. Speaking out when laws threaten patient safety

Emory ophthalmology resident Morgan Micheletti, MD, advocated for the patients of Georgia when legislators tried to pass a possibly dangerous bill. “I made numerous phone calls to both senators and representatives regarding the harmful bill,” he said.

“I spent several mornings at the Capitol, discussing the bill with legislators in person. We hosted a working legislative dinner with approximately 15 legislators to discuss this bill and its negative impact on patient safety. Additionally, I reached out to numerous news outlets and helped obtain an interview with NPR. I created a discussion in my local neighborhood and encouraged my community to contact our legislators as well. In Georgia, our efforts blocked two bills in the House, a third in the Senate. But after dirty politics, a fourth bill, SB 153, passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. We are seeking a veto from Gov. Nathan Deal to ensure patient safety for Georgians.”

2. Building relationships with legislators

For Joseph Nezgoda, MD, MBA, who finished his retina fellowship at UCSD in 2015, advocacy outside clinic has become a habit. “Patient care was always my passion,” he said. “I began by going to my state ophthalmology society meetings and attending lobby efforts. It is surprising how much state and national legislators can learn from young physicians in personal encounters.”

3. Educating local and federal legislators

Northwestern University resident Deepak Mangla, MD, advocates for the patients of Illinois in multiple ways. "We must not only be simply physicians; we must be able to wear the many hats of lobbyists, accountants and lawyers,” he said. “As the health care landscape changes, so will our practice patterns.”

At the local level, Dr. Mangla has lobbied in Springfield, Ill., and participated in a legislative task force of the Illinois Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. He advocated for patients at the federal level as a 2016 Advocacy Ambassador.

“Many [critical health care] decisions are left to individuals that lack the expertise to optimize patient outcomes,” he said. “We must be involved in the process, with all of our hats, to allow our profession to continue to maximize outcomes for our patients."

If these three young ophthalmologists can advocate for their patients, so can you. Advocacy starts the first day of your residency. It’s vitally important to your patients and the very essence of what it means to be an ophthalmologist.


Peter Karth