Join the Movement – Fight to Address Key Policy Issues
Patients can be very powerful when it comes to healthcare, both in managing their own health as well as affecting change for the entire community. At the most recent American College of Rheumatology annual meeting, a session was convened to discuss the benefits of patient advocacy. The presentations in this session were given by individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the power of patients – professionals in the fields of research and patient services who grew up with rheumatic diseases themselves.
Jennifer Ziegler presented the section covering the importance of patient advocacy as it pertains to policy change. Ms. Ziegler was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) when she was just nine months old. Today, she works as the Program Director of Juvenile & Youth Programs in the Pacific Region of the Arthritis Foundation. In order to see real changes in government healthcare policies and funding, Ms. Zeigler was adamant that grassroots advocacy is vital.
When our founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they recognized that an important aspect of democracy is for citizens to be able to petition the government directly on issues they find important. In this day and age, professional lobbyists paid by various interest groups often do a lot of that petitioning. However, grassroots advocacy – which relies almost entirely on the general public – can still have a big impact on the way public policy is developed.
Everyday patients can become important to grassroots advocacy movements simply by sharing their own experiences and opinions with lawmakers. Legislators and their staff want to listen to their constituents, because those are the people they serve and the ones who vote to keep them in office. When it comes to healthcare policy, patients are experts on the topic – regardless of their level of understanding of how public policy works – because they have first-hand experience of what it is like to live with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis. Sharing these experiences with lawmakers can help educate them about the vast impact of arthritis and related diseases, as well as the impact of healthcare policy on real people.
Ms. Zeigler encouraged the healthcare professionals in the audience to encourage patients to share their own stories. As well as having the potential to influence public policy, advocacy can be very empowering for patients. In my personal experience, participating in grassroots advocacy has allowed me to feel like I am making a difference to society and helping other patients, despite everything I may have gone through. There is a lot of power in the voice of the patients, and together we can use that power to address key policy issues that will impact all of us.
Taking part in advocacy efforts can be as simple as sending an email or making a phone call – or as complex as visiting legislators and helping to draft policy legislation. To learn more about how you can get involved in grassroots advocacy as a patient, please visit the Arthritis Foundation’s “Advocate for Arthritis.”
This activity is not sanctioned by, nor a part of, the American College of Rheumatology.
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