Radiologists Need to Get More Involved to Save the Profession

May 3, 2011

The government wants to cut Medicare reimbursements, every other specialty wants to self refer to their own in-house imaging equipment and to top it off, many of our patients are just looking for a reason to sue us. It’s a jungle out there.

In March, I had the opportunity to work in the American College of Radiology (ACR) Government Relations Department (GRD) as a JT Rutherford Fellow.

I wanted to do more than just read films. I could not wait to get a taste of the politics of radiology.

When I arrived at the government relations office, I began a whirlwind tour of the Capitol, ACR style. I spent the week attending Congressional hearings, fundraising events for Congressmen and internal ACR meetings about current legislative issues important to radiology.

Let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience. While we are reviewing images in the reading room everyday, they are fending off attacks on all sides. The government wants to cut Medicare reimbursements, every other specialty wants to self refer to their own in-house imaging equipment and to top it off, many of our patients are just looking for a reason to sue us. It’s a jungle out there.

I don’t want to scare you…too much. I mean, it’s not as bleak as it sounds; however I do want you to realize how important policy and regulation are to the long-term survival of our specialty.

Another noteworthy part of my Rutherford experience was getting to know the GRD staff. Many people you talk to think that lobbyists are “bad” people. Truthfully, before my experience as a fellow, I thought of lobbyists as those guys in the back room of a smoky bar making shady deals to keep some old white guy up to his ears in money. Honestly, it’s nothing like that at all. Every cause known to man has a group of lobbyists in DC including every specialty in medicine.  I found the GRD lobbyists to be caring and passionate people who truly believe in the radiology profession. Their knowledge and ability to speak about the issues and legislation affecting radiologists often made me forget that they were not radiologists themselves. I enjoyed my time with them so much in fact that by the end of the week, I found myself wishing that I didn’t have to leave.

My Rutherford fellowship was a one of a kind educational experience. Having the opportunity to shadow the GRD lobbyists helped me to realize how important both the GRD and ACR are to radiologists.

Radiology has become the target for cost savings in healthcare to many politicians in DC. This affects not just radiologists, but also hospitals, radiology staff and most of all, patients. We need to support our profession or risk our very existence as a specialty.

I learned about the ACR fellowships a few years ago when Ted Burnes from the GRD spoke at a Pennsylvania Radiological Society meeting I had attended. He stressed that the ACR is only as strong as its members and with only 8 percent of practicing radiologists contributing to RADPAC (the political action committee for the ACR), there was much to be desired.  I remember thinking that eight percent just isn’t going to cut it if radiology is going to survive as a specialty.