By Cindy Firkins Smith, M.D. and Dave Thorson, M.D.
For the past few years health care in Minnesota and across the country has experienced dramatic change. This has not only impacted our patients; it has affected every physician and every practice (IT, reimbursement, employment, quality, generational changes and more).
As the environment of medicine has changed, so too has the MMA, especially when it comes to how we create policy. We are morphing into a nimble, inclusive policy making body.
This evolution has come through a lot of hard work. We are striving to address new issues, communicate more effectively, and continually demonstrate value for all physicians. Over the past three years we have undertaken the challenges of changing the fundamental governance of the association. We have worked to become more agile and engaging, to focus on the most important issues to the largest number of physicians, and to expand our influence in the many issues of public policy affecting our patients, practices and personal lives.
One of the most debated changes has been the transition from the MMA House of Delegates (HOD) to a more agile and responsive approach to policy making. This change was the subject of many internal committee and task force conversations, and extensively discussed last September at the HOD. At that time, the HOD recommended suspending its activities for three years in order to try a new approach to policy making – the use of policy forums, broader member input and a new policy council.
We are now just six months into the new process. In fact, the policy council will meet for the first time in April. But, given recent events, we can see that we are well on our way.
An unprecedented response
Legislation on legalizing medical marijuana gained tremendous momentum early in the legislative session. (The MMA last discussed this issue many years ago and had a policy of neutrality on the topic.) In early March, we hosted a policy forum bringing together physicians (members and non-members) from around the state to learn about the topic, discuss pros and cons, and share recommendations. A few days later, we surveyed MMA members – nearly 900 respondents provided additional input and direction. We’ve rarely had this kind of input on policy in the association’s 161-year history. Information from the policy forum and survey was discussed by the MMA Public Health Committee (in the future this is the kind of topic that could be reviewed by a fully formed policy council) and helped guide the formation of a recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The board subsequently discussed and approved a policy. While individuals may or may not agree with the policy decision, we are confident that all will agree that the MMA created a rich and inclusive decision-making process on behalf of Minnesota physicians.
The old way of setting policy – via the HOD – wouldn’t have worked as well for this issue because the timing was wrong, the range of voices wasn’t as deep or broad, and there would not have been enough time for in-depth education and discussion.
We won’t always have issues that are prominently featured in the daily newspaper or that generate as much passion with our members as medical marijuana, but here’s hoping we are on the right track with our new inclusive policy making strategy!
Tell us what you think.
Smith is the MMA’s current president. Thorson is chair of the MMA Board of Trustees.