Improving patient care
Working as a hospitalist at University Medical Center, a safety net hospital in New Orleans, Celeste Newby, MD, PhD, sees plenty of patients who are underinsured or not insured at all. “A lot of my interest in health policy stems from that,” she said.
During her residency, which she finished in 2015, Louisiana became a Medicaid expansion state. This impressed upon Dr. Newby how much Medicaid improved the lives of patients who had previously been uninsured. “We saw procedures getting done that had been put on hold because of financial concerns or medicines that were now affordable that weren’t before,” she said. “It really did make a difference.”
When repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act began, “it was a call to do health policy work for me personally that just hadn’t come up in the past,” said Dr. Newby, who is also assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. “I personally found that the best way to do (advocacy work) was to go through medical societies because there is a much stronger voice when you have more people saying the same thing,” she said.
Dr. Newby sits on the Council of Legislation for the Louisiana State Medical Society and participates in the Leadership and Health Policy (LEAHP) Program through the Society of General Internal Medicine.
The LEAHP Program has been instrumental in expanding Dr. Newby’s knowledge of how health policy is made and the mechanisms behind it. It has also taught her “how we can either advise, guide, leverage, or advocate for things that we think would be important for change and moving the country in the right direction in terms of health care.”
Another reason involvement in medical societies is helpful is because, as a busy clinician, it is impossible to keep up with everything. “Working with medical societies, you have people who are more directly involved in the legislature and can give you quicker notice about things that are coming up that are going to be important to you or your co-workers or your patients,” Dr. Newby said.
Dr. Newby feels her advocacy work is an outlet for stress and “a way to work at more of a macro level on problems that I see with my individual patients. It’s a nice compliment.” At the hospital, she can only help one person at a time, but with her advocacy efforts, there’s potential to make changes for many.
“Advocacy now is such a large umbrella that encompasses so many different projects at all kinds of levels,” Dr. Newby said. She suggests looking around your community to see where the needs lie. If you’re passionate about a certain topic or population, see what you can do to help advocate for change there.