Celebrating a century of physician advocacy
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect correct tax status of hospitals, HCA and AdventHealth.
When Doug Murphy, M.D., an OB-GYN, moved to Ocala in 1984, he joined the Marion County Medical Society. Like most physicians in town, he was in private practice and membership in the MCMS was a calling card to getting patients.
Decades later, the rules of the game have changed: Most physicians are not in private practice but employed by corporate or state-run medical facilities. And social media’s influence has meant that physicians connect to each other—and their patients—online, oftentimes more so than in person. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified social media’s importance—and also, its paradoxically isolating influence. Like many organizations, the MCMS took a full two years off of in-person gatherings.
But in 2022, the Society resumed monthly meetings as membership grew—perhaps, as some members say, in reaction to the isolation. This year, the Society celebrates its 100th year—without much public fanfare but with private reflection on what the Society does for physicians and community healthcare.
Murphy, who served as president of the Society in 1994 and has been on the executive board ever since, said the goals of the MCMS have fundamentally stayed the same. “It functions as a way for physicians to network, discuss cutting-edge issues and do fun things to build rapport,” he said.
The Society is also a conduit for sharing information on legislative issues and nominating its own members to serve as county delegates to the Florida Medical Association, a statewide physicians’ advocacy organization. Murphy, who is president of the FMA, touts some successful policy developments that came about because of the FMA’s advocacy. In the past year, they were able to replace Medicaid with Medicare reimbursement rates for people under the age of 21.
“This moves kids to seeing more doctors who can take them at Medicare rates rather than get their care at emergency rates,” Murphy said, adding that Medicaid is generally a prohibitive program because it doesn’t pay enough for physicians to see patients.
But even Medicare reimbursement rates have become low when compared to inflation.
“More and more physicians are no longer accepting Medicare because they can’t afford it,” Murphy said. “It’s potentially disastrous, so we’re in the process of getting the Legislature to increase reimbursement for physicians.”
The FMA also was able to get $35 million for new graduate residency spots, which recently opened up 1,000 new spots in Florida. Murphy said the aim is to attract and keep more medical students in Florida. He notes that the federal government put a freeze on money for new residencies many years ago, which is partly why there’s a shortage of doctors in the U.S.
Meeting a diversity of needs in Marion County
Compared to other counties in Florida, Marion is a mixed bag when it comes to the patient population, said David Willis, M.D., a primary care physician in Ocala and member and past president of the MCMS.
“We have a larger Medicare population, being surrounded by Top of the World, Oak Run, The Villages. We have people employed in healthcare, government, schools and a lot of small businesses. There are a lot of uninsured. It’s a nice, complicated mess,” Willis said, adding that in Ocala, two large hospital systems, HCA Florida, a for-profit, and AdventHealth Ocala (and formerly HMA), a nonprofit, operate across the street from one another.
“Those national politics got played out across the street,’’ he said. “We see a lot of corporate medicine here.”
Given the patchwork of patients and physician care models, a medical society can be a stabilizing presence for physicians and their patients, Willis said.
“A good medical society can actually enhance patient care. Personality matters,” he continued. “If you’ve got two surgeons, and they’re both excellent, and one is a big Gator fan, and the patient is a Gator fan, you might make that referral.”
Another example Willis gave is telling a patient about a physician who might be the best at what they do but have a bad bedside manner. Knowing these things about physicians, and communicating them appropriately to patients, can go a long way in influencing an important area of medicine, which is patient-doctor communication.
“I would venture to say a very large percentage of medical errors occur because of communication errors,” Willis said. “One thing that we are trying to promote among physicians is first, to just get to know one another because it matters.”
At monthly MCMS meetings, physicians get that chance to mingle. They also get to hear lectures on a variety of current, sometimes groundbreaking issues in medicine. Recently, there was a lecture on using radiation therapy to treat melanoma, which Murphy called an “earth-shattering piece of information. It may change the face of how we treat melanoma.”
Yousef Elyaman, M.D., the president of MCMS, said there would be an upcoming lecture on music and memory focused on dementia. Other lectures have also focused on geriatric topics, like managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Other lectures focus on the latest recommendations or novel treatments, such as using hypnosis in smoking cessation. Elyaman said the Society has an upcoming talk on addiction, which is prevalent in Marion County. Elyaman, an internist certified in functional medicine, which takes a comprehensive view of disease causation, will give a lecture about how high levels of uric acid are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and ways to decrease it.
Elyaman’s goal as president is to hold more lectures, along with in-person meetings, and charity activities in the community like food drives. He also wants to attract more new and young physicians to the society so that it can continue its long tradition in the community.
“The fact that we’re 100 years old is kind of a testament to the dedication of physicians to the patients of Marion County,” Murphy said. “We’ve seen hospitals come and go. We continue to be here. Many physicians are here for decades. It’s a commitment to the community. I think that’s why we’re 100 years old.”