In these politically charged and often divisive times, it is understandable that some members of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) feel a sense of frustration with the federal legislative and regulatory processes. However, ACS members can rest assured that this organization is effectively representing their interests in Washington, DC, and is making headway toward building and maintaining the relationships necessary to achieve passage of legislation and policies that will improve surgical patient care.
As evidence of this statement, a recent analysis by Ballast Research, Washington, DC, shows that the ACS is one of the most effective advocacy organizations in Washington, DC. This success, Ballast reports, is attributable to our principles and the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy’s (DAHP’s) strategic approach to advocacy. Under the leadership of this month’s co-author, Christian Shalgian, Director, along with Patrick V. Bailey, MD, MLS, FACS, Medical Director, Advocacy, and Frank G. Opelka, MD, FACS, Medical Director, Quality and Health Policy, DAHP, has built a strong reputation and deep relationships with legislators and policymakers from both parties.
Ballast Research conducts an annual survey of reputation and effectiveness in the nation’s capital, gathering feedback from senior policymakers on Capitol Hill, in the federal agencies, in the White House, and among policy experts to measure their perceptions of more than 100 organizations. The study specifically measures the level of an organization’s “policy brand.” This term refers to the level of respect policymakers have for the organization’s role in policy discussions, whether policymakers consider the organization’s perspective on issues, how much the organization’s input influences policymakers, and whether policymakers actively seek the organization’s input.
A credible, effective voice
Ballast reports that the ACS’ advocacy efforts are effective, and federal policymakers value the voice of surgeons. In fact, according to Ballast, the College has a best-in-class federal advocacy operation, ranking among the most prominent corporations and leading associations studied in 2019 (see Figure 1).
Furthermore, the ACS ranked in the top 25 percent of associations studied on each measure of long-term effectiveness (see Figure 2). The College’s consistent engagement in Washington has cultivated a strong brand identity for the association and the profession. Policymakers view the College as a credible voice that takes a constructive approach to finding policy solutions and effectively promoting outcomes that are aligned with the interests of both surgeons and their patients.
The ACS is viewed as an organization that offers reasonable, evidence-based solutions to the issues that challenge our nation’s health care system. In fact, Ballast reports that the College is more effective at negotiating for consensus on difficult policy issues than any other association studied, scoring the top slot out of the 48 associations included in the assessment (see Figure 3). We have achieved this reputation by contributing reliable research and data, establishing effective coalitions, and working with thought leaders.
This solutions-oriented approach to policymaking is unique and resonates strongly with both Democrats and Republicans, according to the Ballast report. The ACS’ bipartisan credibility is rare across Ballast’s research, as most organizations struggle to develop messaging and policy positions that resonate with both parties. The College’s thoughtful approach to its engagement in Washington has enabled it to thrive, whereas other organizations, especially health care associations, often have perpetuated negative perceptions of their advocacy, particularly among Republicans. The ACS is the only health care association to increase its policy effectiveness across party lines.
Amplifying ACS’ message
The report also outlined opportunities for the College to strengthen its influence in Washington. The key area for improvement is improved messaging.
Prominent associations invest heavily in a range of different “messengers” to break through in Washington. Policymakers, like most members of our society, are inundated with sound bites, images, e-mail, and so on, and it takes a comprehensive communications strategy to cut through the clutter. Ballast tells us that the ACS would benefit from amplifying its voice in media (social, digital, advertising), events, and grassroots engagement. A more visible presence that continues to elevate the ACS’ solutions-oriented and patient-focused approach will further bolster perceptions of the profession and our effectiveness in Washington.
With the help of the College’s new Director of Integrated Communications, Cori McKeever Ashford, Christian and I are confident that we will move the needle toward more effective messaging. Ms. McKeever Ashford has more than 20 years of experience in health care communications and has worked in Washington, DC. She has strong connections with the mainstream media and is working with our Communications team and Washington Office to improve our presence on social media, to rebuild the College’s website, and to develop a strategic plan to ensure that the College’s image as an effective, caring, and compassionate advocate for the surgical patient care profession is communicated across a range of audiences.
What can you do?
Of course, the most effective advocates for surgery are the people who provide patient care and witness the effects of health policy every day. That’s where we need your help. As we expand our communications efforts, spread the College’s message via social media and whenever you may be called upon to talk about what you and your institution do and what the College does to improve health care.
Also consider getting involved in the following grassroots advocacy activities:
- Participate in the annual Leadership & Advocacy Summit, where you will be briefed on the College’s legislative agenda and to engage with members of Congress and health policy staff on Capitol Hill.
- Meet with legislators when they are in-district through the DAHP’s Advocate at Home Program. The division staff will ensure a seamless meeting experience by providing the necessary resources to schedule, prepare for, and facilitate an in-district meeting. Learn more on the Advocate at Home Program web page.
- Visit the SurgeonsVoice Advocacy Center, which makes it easy for you to send an e-mail directly to your elected officials on the leading issues in surgery, including surprise billing, funding the MISSION ZERO Act, colorectal cancer screening, and so on.
- Join the ACS Professional Association Political Action Committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC).
The Ballast study shows that the College has the ear of policymakers, but we need your voice to keep it. The ACS looks forward to working with you to strengthen our reputation and more effectively represent the interests of surgeons and their patients in the future.
If you have comments or suggestions about this or other issues, please send them to Dr. Hoyt at firstname.lastname@example.org.