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Tuesday
Dec282010

A Capitol Idea

If you want to make changes, learn how the political system works and participate.

Part of my job as Chief Medical Officer for the Colorado Telehealth Network (http://www.cotelehealth.com)  is to work with stakeholders and members of the Colorado State Legislature. The CTN is a statewide broadband virtual private network offering members educational products (http://www.ctneducation.com ), value added business process applications, and telemedicine and telehealth access. All of this is designed to be self-sustaining, thanks to the participation of our industry and vendor partners, and to eventually improve access and healthcare value for Coloradoans.

As you can imagine, there are significant challenges before us and overcoming them sometimes requires legislative and regulatory fixes to, among other things,  reimbursement, infrastructure, credentialing, licensing, and liability policies that are interfering with our ultimate goal of being able to provide services to patients anywhere, any way , any time using advanced information and communications technologies.

Like most of you, I've been interested but uninvolved in the political process most of my life. Several things happened, though, that got me more into the game.

Firstly, at one point in her career, my wife, Kathleen, worked as a lobbyist for a state agency. As part of that, she interacted with state legislators on a regular basis and her network continued to expand. As a result of many events,fundraisers and cocktail parties that ensued, so did mine. Several years later, she ran the re-election campaigns of several members, including one of our present Colorado Congressmen. That process taught me the "inside baseball" of political campaigns and the grass roots work it takes to get someone elected. I remember spending the weekends of one summer hanging door tags, knocking on doors and walking in political parades. (HINT: Do not walk behind another candidate that has a real donkey for a mascot)

Secondly, I volunteered to serve as a legislative network contact person for one of my specialty societies. At the time, we were involved in a campaign to allow surgeons not affiliated with an ABMS board to advertise themselves as plastic surgeons. As a result, we sued the State of Colorado, I was the guinea pig, and, fortunately, we had a successful outcome.

Third, as a result of my interests in innovation, bioscience commercialization and the contacts I made, I was appointed to the Governors Commisssion of Science and Technology as part of an effort to reposition Colorado from a state dependent mostly on tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and mining to one that is presently a high techology hub.

All of these experiences prepared my for my present CTN gig. So, what advice would I give you if you want to put a toe in the political waters?

1. Don't volunteer for something that you can't deliver, no matter how small. Like Woody Allen said, life is %95 about showing up.

2. Pick your shots. All of us have 24 hours each day. Focus on a policy interest and stick with it.

3. Offer to serve as a resource for legislators who are hungry for information. They would welcome participation from someone like you  who understands the complexities of the issues. Start with someone who represents your legislative district and  has a track record in healthcare, transportation, energy, or whatever topic interests you . For example, I'm working with the Vice-Chairman of the Health committee that represents a rural, medically underserved area that will benefit from telemedicine services and have offered to tesify at her committee hearings.

4. Network, network, network. Part of your value will be your ability to piece together coalitions in support of your ideas.

Recent Congressional job approval ratings are about 25%. It easy to be cynical and take a back seat. If you want to make a difference, however, you'll need to get in the game. If all else fails, marry someone who is.

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