The Experience of the AHIMA Advocacy Summit 2021

By Susan Clark

How do I feel following the 2021 AHIMA Advocacy Summit? I feel energized, valued, and impactful!

If you have not experienced a previous Advocacy Summit, you may not know that it consists of two components: 1) informative sessions on the latest in health information policy and innovation from government and industry leaders, and 2) meetings with congressional leaders and their staffs.

1. Informative Sessions

This year’s sessions included topics that are traditionally in our wheelhouse, including the proposed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) updates, and bridging administrative and clinical data. Other topics focused on areas in which we should be stretching our ability to improve the healthcare continuum. There were also interesting updates about the current legislative session from our insiders on AHIMA’s Policy & Government Affairs team.

2. Congressional Meetings

The event has typically occurred in Washington, DC, with meetings at the offices of the legislators. This year, however, we met them virtually. The advantage to this was that there were no limitations on the number of people from each state who could attend the meetings. It allowed us to increase the number of first-time attendees who could experience a legislative interaction in a less intimidating manner with peers who’d had the experience before and had a higher comfort level in leading the meetings. Everyone from our state also had two prep meetings to coordinate the flow of the calls. Once summit registrations are complete, AHIMA staff works diligently to coordinate congressional meetings for each attendee’s individual district and senators. That is no easy feat! AHIMA holds a virtual prep session in which attendees are coached on what to expect in interacting with the congressional staff, how to make the most of the meeting, and what the current asks are for our legislators. This is the secret sauce that makes us all look like pros when we attend the meetings. The message that is repeatedly reinforced is that you need to frame the information in the context of your own personal story, whether it’s something you experience in your work life or in your own personal life.

This year, we were tasked to ask the legislators to support three pieces of legislation. They pertained to continued access and reimbursement for telehealth, improving the public health data infrastructure, and creating a pathway for social determinants of health data for improving health equity. In our experience, the general feeling, no matter the legislator’s political affiliation, was in support of these efforts. When you can talk as people together in a room and not as news sound bites, you are able to recognize that we are all just people trying to improve lives in our own way. It is so gratifying to experience. As an example, one of the staff said that he was so impressed by our thorough presentation and fun interactions and we had set the bar so high that he may just have to take the whole rest of the week off. While talking about telehealth, I recounted how I couldn’t make a phone call from the beauty salon to order carryout for dinner in one of our rural counties. I sympathized with how tough it must be for those in that community to access healthcare. That was my story. The same staffer then called me the next day asking how we could continue the conversation in a forum within our district. I can’t wait to make that happen.

This summit was focused on federal-level legislation, but these concepts are the same whether you are talking to federal, local, or state legislators. Get to know them. Offer to be a resource. If you attended the summit this year, please use the power of social media to be a positive influence and encourage your fellow attendees to tell their stories via social media, at state and regional meetings, and with their work colleagues.

So, what’s your story?

Susan Clark is the chair of the AHIMA Advocacy & Policy Council.

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