How Can We Improve Women’s Health? Physician Advocacy

Dr. Schneider is taking on women’s health issues, from the exam room to the Colorado State Capitol and even to the White House.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed nations. Far too many women are dying during childbirth in our country … and we don’t know why. I, along with a lot of other people, have been working for years to make maternal mortality a public issue.

Dr. Emily Schneider met with political leaders like Colorado Senator and presidential candidate Michael Bennet to discuss women's health and physician advocacy | CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver (Rocky Mountain) | Denver
Dr. Emily Schneider met with political leaders, like Michael Bennet, Senator for Colorado (pictured above), to discuss women’s health and physician advocacy.

We’re finally making progress. There are stories in Time magazine and other big news outlets to increase public awareness of this women’s health issue. Not only that, but we also lobbied for federal and Colorado legislation to investigate this serious problem. My goal is for every woman in the state of Colorado to have the same quality care, no matter what hospital they deliver at.

This is a part of my long-term goal as a women’s healthcare provider and physician advocate.

A leader in the OB-GYN office and with policymakers

Currently, I serve as the vice chair and legislative chair of the Colorado section of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). I’m also a board member and secretary of the board for the Colorado Perinatal Care Quality Collaborative, as well as a board member and co-medical chair of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado. Within all of these positions, I work on healthcare policy to help shape women’s healthcare on a local level, state level and federal level.

It’s important for physicians to be included in policy decisions and be advocates for themselves and their patients. I love that I can see a patient in the office and make a difference in her life, but working on the global policy level makes me feel like I can make population-level differences that can last for a generation. I feel like I am working toward making effective changes and making a real difference for women.

It sounds cliché but that’s why I went into medicine. That’s why I spent all those years training – I want to make a difference. I feel like this work in healthcare policy provided another avenue outside the exam room to do that.

Addressing maternal mortality nationally and locally

The maternal mortality initiative is something that will make a real difference for decades to come and is something I am really proud of. President Trump signed a bipartisan bill known as the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018. This has been one of the few pieces of bipartisan federal legislation to pass recently.

The act provides states with federal funding to support maternal mortality review committees. This funding will allow each state to investigate why pregnant moms are dying, which may vary from state to state due to different patient populations, healthcare systems and population sizes.

On the state level, Colorado already had a long standing maternal mortality committee, but it wasn’t funded, and all data received by the committee was on a several year delay. We were able to get a Colorado bill passed that would draw upon those federal funds that were passed in the federal act to help support our committee, and allow data to be obtained on a more real-time basis so effective healthcare changes can be implemented in a timely manner to prevent future deaths.

This means we will try to find answers to the problems that are affecting Coloradan women. For instance, in Colorado we know there are problems with women hemorrhaging in pregnancy, as well as an opioid epidemic during pregnancy and the postpartum period up to a year after delivery. Now we have the funding to drill down into each issue and hopefully make a big clinical impact with clinical changes.

That was a big win. Nothing changes overnight, especially in healthcare. But, if we can get some changes in the next few years, hopefully, it will translate into decades of better healthcare for our pregnant moms.

Educating the next generation of women’s health advocates

In order to make these types of changes, we, as physicians, need to be included and sitting at the policy table. There’s so much going on in medicine – whether it’s cost transparency, high deductibles, cost of medications, access to care – that needs a physician voice. Our voice has to be a part of the discussion in order to effectively create good policy changes that will help our patients, because we see how medicine works day in and day out in our offices and hospitals.

I am very upfront with my patients about this advocacy work because it often causes me to reschedule appointments or have my patients see one of the other great CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver (Rocky Mountain) physicians. But they all love that I do this! They are always so appreciative. For patients to know that their doctor is talking with elected officials on their behalf is important.

Meet our physicians

Another part of this advocacy work is to share my knowledge with others and encourage them to use their voices. Every year I take a group of resident physicians from the local area OB-GYN training programs to the Colorado State Capitol for a lobby day. They are always so nervous and feel like they don’t know anything about politics. Being an advocate does not require you to be a political junky, you just need to be an expert in an area and help educate policy makers.

But once the legislators start asking questions, the residents realize they do know the answer by telling the stories of taking care of patients! It’s very meaningful when they walk out of there and feel like they have had a positive impact on policies for their patients.

The importance of speaking up and speaking out about women’s health

I’ve always been passionate about being involved in political debate. I spend hours each week doing this work in addition to my full time practicing OB-GYN duties. Engaging with senators and representatives on behalf of my patients or engaging in round table discussions with other physicians about policy implications is how I spend most of my time.

Elected officials are very respectful of the knowledge that I have, knowing the years of training and practice experience I have that has made me an expert in women’s healthcare. They value and want physicians in the decision-making process. They want that expertise. They want to talk to the person who has boots on the ground in order to work on the healthcare issues we are facing.

This is why it’s so important that physicians keep finding opportunities to share their knowledge and experience with the individuals who make healthcare policy. Ultimately, what it comes down to is if we want healthier patients and a better work environment, we have to speak up to advocate for patients and ourselves.