In an effort to assess the changing climate of O&P politics, we surveyed a random selection of O&P Business News News Wire subscribers about their personal involvement, as well as the perceived involvement of the general population of practitioners in the political arena. We also invited our print edition readers and attendees of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association National Assembly to participate as well.
In our findings, some respondents called attention to the small community of practitioners who need to band together for the sake of quality patient care above all else. Others cited little time and access as their main reasons for staying inactive despite varying years of service.
Regardless of our survey findings and the personal testimonies shared along the way, no one can ignore that the profession is changing. The real question is: are practitioners actively involved in creating positive change or are they sitting on the sidelines watching silently as the changes unfold without their influence?
The 39 respondents represented 16 states with differing levels of statewide O&P political activity and included certified orthotists and prosthetists, residents and registered technicians with varying years in the profession.
When asked if they had ever participated politically in regard to O&P, 66.7% of people surveyed answered no; 33.3% answered yes.
Additionally, we asked the politically active 33.3% on what governmental level they participated. Almost 54% (53.9%) answered that they participated for both state and federal purposes; 46.2% answered they participated solely for state purposes and zero respondents worked exclusively for federally sponsored objectives.
The perceptual findings were especially interesting regarding respondents who answered that they were not politically active. This population also accounted for approximately 38% of those who believe that the general population of practitioners is somewhat or very politically active.
Please see accompanying charts for additional compilations of the data.
Reasons for low involvement
According to the findings of the O&P Business News survey, low involvement rates do not stem from a lack of interest. Only one respondent asserted inactivity because he or she did not want to get involved. All other respondents who had not been involved cited time constraints, poor access to services and key decision makers or not knowing how to get involved as their main reasons for staying silent.
Roger Lehneis, vice president of administration for Lehneis O&P Associates, described himself as politically active. He said he understands why involvement may wane among some in the O&P profession.
“I think it is very difficult to run your business effectively with all of the new legislation and different compliance issues you’re dealing with,” Lehneis told O&P Business News in a follow-up interview. “The orthotists and prosthetists are…busy with patient care…and I think they maybe would get a little more involved if they had a little more time.”
He continued by explaining that keeping up with Medicare, billing, chart audits and any number of other things that crop up throughout the day consume time unknowingly.
“You just barely have time to get through the day,” he said.
Marshall Black, CPO, of OrthoPro of Lewiston Inc., who also has been politically involved with the industry, said that reaching practitioners who cite a lack of time is necessary at this stage.
“Obviously there are [people] who have not kept up with [the politics]. How do you get the information to them or throw cold water on them?” Black said. “If we don’t get some of these changes, you’re going to have all the time in the world.”
Why they decided to get involved
Deciding to be an active part of a political movement is a personal choice that can have serious effects, not only on one business, but on the profession as a whole.
Black raised the concern that other fields may take over some of the specialties covered by O&P practitioners much in the same way that the fitting of some knee orthoses, spinal orthoses and therapeutic footwear has shifted hands during the last few years.
“We are such a small organization that if we don’t personally get involved we aren’t going to be able to battle the battles we need to,” Black said. “As well as practitioners, office administrators and technicians, how many how many patients do we have out there? If we get everybody working together on certain key issues – that is a lot of weight.”
One common and significant concern came to the surface above all others. Many respondents on both sides of the issue think political participation is vital in necessitating change within the industry. Shattering the barriers that keep people from being active is one obstacle that the industry will have to overcome to meet that end.
“If our representatives aren’t aware there is a problem, they can’t fix it,” Black said.
How the war affects the outcome
Practitioners cannot ignore the obvious impact that the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are having on the O&P profession. Returning soldiers, now amputees, are being photographed, interviewed and given recognition in various public media outlets. Additionally, they are being outfitted with some of the most high-tech and functional prostheses ever created.
“If you saw one amputee a year on a newscast that was a lot and now you are seeing them practically weekly,” Lehneis said. “People are asking more questions and…maybe aren’t as scared of seeing an amputee or dealing with a disability, which is a positive thing as unfortunate as it is.”
According to “A Grim Milestone: 500 Amputees,” an article which appeared in Time magazine, “Limb loss has occurred twice as often in Iraq as in any conflict of the past century, except for Vietnam, for which there are no good statistics….[In 2006] nearly a quarter of the 128 amputees lost more than one limb, compared with about 13% in the first full year of conflict.”
USA TODAY reported that as of July 2007, 651 amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan had been treated in army hospitals.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, some believe this may be the best time to approach policymakers; while these stories are being told in record volumes.
“It is sad…but we are in the limelight right now and we have the public looking. Let’s take advantage of that,” Black said. “As far as the political leaders – no one wants to be the person who doesn’t want to help someone…Politicians are aware that the public is looking.”
For more information:
- Copeland L. Camp helps Iraq war veterans get back on feet. USA TODAY. Sept. 30, 2007. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-30-Offroad_helpthetroops_N.htm
- Weisskopf M. A Grim Milestone: 500 Amputees. Time. Jan. 18, 2007. Available at: www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1580531,00.html
Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.