“We emphasize the issue,” said Donald Palmisano Jr., executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG). “The issue is the issue, but legislators want to know its impact on patients and medical practices. Physicians have real-life stories to tell their legislators and can say: ‘This is what we’re seeing and this is what’s happening to your constituents.’”
Other advice the AMA guide offers include:
Know the counter-arguments to your position. Anticipate questions or potential pushback and prepare a response.
Outline how you and your group can assist the lawmaker to achieve common goals. “What doctors have going for them is credibility,” Dr. Allen said. “Make yourself available as a resource they can count on if they need information.”
Bring visual aids and other informational material to leave with the staff. “Make it a one-pager and not a 10-pager,” Dr. Allen said, adding “always bring business cards.”
In short, Dr. Dimitri recommends these general principles for an in-person meeting: Don’t be confrontational, bring data, and tell stories.
Phoning it in
Many of the same rules apply for phone calls. The AMA’s guide recommends calling legislators at both their capital office where their issue experts are located and their local offices. If you don’t know a lawmaker’s phone number, you can connect via the AMA Physicians Grassroots Network at (800) 833-6354.
Get it in writing
Written communication via email or a personal letter are most effective early in the legislative process and help frame future interactions, according to the AMA guide. AMA action alerts can help organize messages that can be supplemented with personal stories.
In this day of texts and other instant forms of communication, Jordan notes that “People still write letters and people still read them.”
“If it’s a personally written letter—as opposed to a form letter—it gets more attention,” Dr. Aguilar said.
She added that her office receives a lot of letters and emails but they are not dismissed—even if they are not carefully read. They are tabulated to help gauge public sentiment on issues.
“What legislators tell us is that mass emails don’t get their attention, but a personal email does,” said MAG President Frank McDonald, MD. “It also helps if you have a personal relationship. If they don’t know who you are, your views may not matter as much.”
The AMA guide suggests using personal or business stationary if possible. It notes that, while hand-written letters are persuasive, they do go through a security check which may add weeks to their delivery. Dr. Allen concurs.
“Snail mail takes forever to get to them because it is screened,” she said. “So, written correspondence is best sent electronically or by fax.”
Don’t be anti-social
With social media there is “a general fear” that something will be taken out of context and misrepresent one’s position, said Maryanne Bombaugh, MMS vice president and an AMA delegate.
“We have not totally utilized social media as best we can,” said Dr. Bombaugh, who previously chaired the MMS Committee on Legislation and chairs her state’s chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “We can do better.”
The AMA guide touts the ability to directly reach every member of Congress via Twitter and Facebook.
“When people leverage this unfettered access with specific, consistent messages or direct calls to action about a time-sensitive issue or upcoming vote, it can yield powerful results,” the AMA guide states. “Also, while members of Congress are on recess, engage with them on social media as they are more likely to be personally using their accounts.”
Previously, Twitter messages were limited to 140 characters, but that was recently doubled. Still, Jordan said the limited-character count remains a positive aspect of tweeting.
“The medium lends itself to being concise—which is always a good idea,” he said.