The American Medical Association's long-entrenched policy of keeping the press at bay can't fully explain the organization's decision earlier this month to bar the media from its second Federation Task Force on Disparities in Healthcare, a much-needed effort to focus attention-including the public's-on diversity initiatives.
The gathering of top AMA officials and the leaders of more than 40 other public health groups and medical societies-including the co-sponsoring National Medical Association, a Washington-based association of black physicians-coincided with National Minority Health Month. It was aimed at "strategizing methods for increasing profes-sional awareness of racial and ethnic health disparities" and "improving workforce diversity," one of the healthcare industry's top priorities.
While the media were prohibited from covering the event, it nonetheless took center stage on the AMA's Web site, ama-assn.org, where the featured story for most of the week highlighted the daylong conference as a "united force" for diversity. The Web feature included a picture of AMA President-elect John Nelson; Randall Maxey, the NMA's president; and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., the Chicago Democrat who delivered a speech to the group the night before the conference.
For his part, Nelson underscored the AMA's sharp focus on initiatives aimed at eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities-a noble effort that most organizations would go to great lengths to publicize.
"This issue," Nelson was quoted as saying, "reaches into the core of everything we as physicians are about. I am absolutely committed to this and it will be something I will address throughout my year of presidency."
Despite repeated requests for permission to attend the event, Outliers was not allowed access. Explained one AMA official: "This was a preliminary brainstorming session. I don't know of any organization that allows the media to cover a brainstorming session."
An observance with a discount
For those keeping track of healthcare observances in May, add one to the list that could stand out from the crowd of more than 45 for the month-marking such days as Melanoma Monday-with an offer of discounts on books and music to healthcare workers.
Healthcare Appreciation Weekend, May 14 through May 16, held just after Nurse Appreciation Week, the first week of May, will allow healthcare professionals with proof of employment to get a 20% discount on most items at Borders Books & Music and Waldenbooks stores nationwide.
To the Borders Group, the parent corporation of Borders stores, healthcare employees are an underappreciated lot, but they also represent an untapped marketing pool. They're "people that don't normally get targeted as a group," says Jenie Dahlmann, the company's manager of public relations. "We have a deep selection of (medical and healthcare) books (and) desk references that you wouldn't traditionally find in other bookstores."
This year marks the third annual event for the healthcare field. Borders also holds discount days for educators, another underappreciated group, Dahlmann says.
For one weekend only this year, healthcare workers can get a discount on reference books, Dahlmann says, and "really treat themselves to anything in the store, whether it's the latest DVD or a novel."
He'll (have someone) take it
To say that Tommy Thompson's last year as HHS secretary hasn't been fun so far is probably an understatement, so getting an award for his record of promoting the use of information technology to improve healthcare quality was welcome, even if he didn't show up to accept it.
The secretary won the HIMSS Advocacy Award from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society at the group's Advocacy Day and Solutions Showcase in Washington earlier this month. He was lauded by HIMSS board Chairman David Garets for "his extraordinary leadership in advocating for the inclusion of healthcare information management and technology in the healthcare system to achieve more portable and interoperable healthcare information solutions that will improve the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of patient care."
Thompson and his department have been subject to a barrage of criticism this year for withholding cost estimates of the new prescription drug benefit, for an alleged threat by CMS Administrator Tom Scully to fire the chief actuary over the same report and for opposing the importation of cheaper drugs for seniors from Canada. But Thompson has also pushed hard to win some funding of initiatives toward greater use of IT in healthcare, including some in the new Medicare reform bill.
John Hoff, HHS deputy assistant secretary, accepted the award on his boss' behalf. In a statement, Thompson said, "This award recognizes the commitment of our staff striving to harness information technology to improve healthcare and safety across the country."
Thompson has said he will step down at the end of the year.