United for Patient Protection
Brevard County Medical Society, a multi-specialty grassroots organization, joins physicians together to advocate for patient rights
On a cool evening in March, board members of the Brevard County Medical Society (BCMS) quietly dine and converse about nothing of major importance: their homes, the cities they come from, how well they like certain institutions in Brevard County, their spouses and children. Then someone mentions, half jokingly, that too often these days, physicians sometimes are not referred to as physicians. They are “medical professionals” or “health care givers” or simply “providers.”
“Prescriber,” Dr. Stephen Badolato, the society’s immediate past president, says softly, and leans forward to lend his words emphasis. “I read today that I am not even a ‘health care provider.’ I am a ‘prescriber.’ That’s what the pharmacy calls us. Imagine that. We are simply… ‘prescribers.’”
With that, all hint of jocularity fades among the diners, each a physician, each eminent in his or her field, each of whom uses the word “patient” in a personal, rather than abstract, manner, and each of whom is disappointed that anyone should refer to a physician than anything less.
“That is why are active in the Brevard County Medical Society,” says Dr. Lance Grenevicki, the society’s current president. “In these days of regulation and governmental intrusion, when we are labeled as so many things, we feel so strongly about keeping the human beings at the forefront. We practice medicine, the very heart of which is humanity.”
FINDING STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
So they do, in an era of remarkable scientific achievement and equipment of which physicians in a previous era could not have dreamed. But neither could they have dreamed of the countless hours of paperwork; the endless explanations to insurance companies; the requirements for additional study; and the possibility that government regulation, which they already view as highly restrictive, if not downright interfering, could grow yet greater.
Still, it’s not merely about them as physicians or individuals. It’s about the state of medicine in general. At its heart, it is about the patient.
“I think the thing that’s driven me (to become active in the society) is that over the past 10 years, we’ve had an increasing feeling of being powerless, between the insurance companies, the hospitals, the attorneys and the paperwork that comes with them,” says Dr. Badolato.
“There are two concepts here,” says Dr. Eugene Wawrzyniak, an obstetrician-gynecologist. “The first is about organized medicine, with regard to certain political action that we take that pertains to all physicians. The second is clinical…that deals with patient care. Both are linked with us being successful physicians. We are here to precipitate a better environment for the physician, and therefore a better environment for the patient.”
In truth, those concepts are not new for BCMS, which met informally in the late 19th century and was established in 1904. It has represented the county’s physicians since that time as an affiliate of the Florida Medical Association and American Medical Association, giving them the opportunity to get to know one another socially and professionally, as well as providing representation of their political and professional viewpoints. It also offers physician referral services and information and health education to the general public.
“I joined the society back in 1990 because I had to join the association, as did every other physician. In those days, when you (affiliated with) a hospital, you also joined the society. It’s not that way now,” says Dr. Jose Reilova, a pathologist. “But as I continued to practice, I realized how beneficial (the society) is. Pathologists are not the most social people. We spend our lives behind microscopes. But it is easier to tell someone the good news or bad news about that biopsy if you know the person to whom you are speaking.”
“I believe the organization allows us to be better advocates for our patients. At our heart, we’re not advocates for physicians. We’re advocates for patients. That’s what is most important to us: patients,” adds Dr. John Potomski, who specializes in geriatric medicine. “If we don’t become better advocates for ourselves, who will advocate for our patients?”
Dr. Heidar Heshmati, a pathologist who has served for 27 years as director of the Brevard County Health Department, agrees, and cites yet more reasons for membership in the society.
“We have a variety of issues. One of those issues is that so many groups of (health care-related providers) want to practice medicine (perform procedures, prescribe medications, etc.) without being physicians. That is wrong and we need to protect the profession,” he says.
ENFORCING ETHICAL STANDARDS
Frustrated by what they see as overregulation, the physicians also want more autonomy, including an increased ability to do peer reviews and an increased emphasis on ethics.
“Ethics is the biggest problem because of employment contracts and what (physicians) now are forced to do on paper, a lot of which we see as potentially not ethical,” says Dr. Grenevicki, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. This relates to autonomy. It is extremely important for a physician to practice with a high degree of autonomy.”
“Do you realize how many (people or organizations) now can be involved in the care of a single patient?” asks Dr. Badolato, who is trained in sports medicine and has a family practice in Suntree.
“You can wait on the phone for hours for an answer from a single insurance company, and the person on the phone isn’t a physician; may not even be in the (health care profession) at all. But you must have that permission before you can treat the patient, and so you wait. That does not help your patient because that patient is forced to wait too,” adds Dr. Potomski.
Dr. Grenevicki points out that the medical profession was well represented when this country was young. “Five physicians were among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. There now are 19 members of Congress (three in the Senate and 16 in the House of Representatives). The percent of physicians that has been represented in the political process has slipped with time. And that is our fault,” he says.
“We’ve allowed it to happen. Things have eroded. The physician-patient relationship has eroded as a result, and that is unconscionable,” says Dr. Badolato. “Now is the time for us to stand up for ourselves and our patients. My main thrust is that years from now, I would like to hear it said that we helped to make things better.”
Current members of the society say the way to do that is for the society to grow.
“We seek 100 percent membership. All physicians in this community are welcome to join us. Our ultimate achievement will be to become the true mouthpiece for the practice of medicine in Brevard County,” Dr. Grenevicki says. “Our patients deserve no less.”