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Pennsylvania Section report

Dr. Sherry L. BlumenthalSherry L. Blumenthal, MD, section chair

The Pennsylvania Section is working on several legislative issues. We hired a lobbyist, John Milliron, to increase our effectiveness in Harrisburg. He is a past state representative and now works with medical specialties in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Milliron helped the American College of Emergency Physicians write a bill that will increase the requirements of plaintiffs who bring a liability action against a physician in an emergency room or emergency labor and delivery situation, especially if the patient is unknown to the physician. I attended a legislative briefing in Harrisburg in October to testify in favor of this bill with our emergency room colleagues.

Our section is working with Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) lobbyists to defeat a bill requiring a fetal ultrasound before abortion on the grounds that it is medically unnecessary in some cases. The bill had 132 sponsors as of March, about half of whom withdrew sponsorship when protests about using vaginal probe ultrasounds began. We are unsure when the measure will be reintroduced, but suspect that it will be.

We are also supporting a bill PAMED authored that will simplify and modernize application and requirements for hospital privileges. It states that “medical staff” consists of physicians, dentists, and podiatrists, which is stipulated in existing regulations. Certified registered nurse-midwives in our state have mounted a campaign against the bill, arguing for independent staff privileges. Current law in Pennsylvania requires a written collaborative agreement with a physician for a midwife to practice at a hospital. We oppose changing the requirement due to patient safety considerations and physician liability concerns.

John Gallagher, MD, Section Advisory Council member, and I held a briefing in June at the State Capitol at the request of a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, addressing the benefits of expedited partner therapy (EPT). ACOG supports prescription of antibiotics to the sexual partner of a woman diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia by the woman’s physician or clinic. In Pennsylvania, there is no law specifically prohibiting this, but many physicians fear liability should the partner have a reaction to the medication (though no such case has actually been reported). Illinois has a statute protecting the prescribing physician from liability. We will be working to write similar legislation and obtain bipartisan sponsorship.

“The OBesity Project,” a collaborative project of members of our section and District III, is now a part of resources being assembled by the ACOG Task Force on Obesity. The project reviews the effects of obesity on patients in all the subspecialties of ob-gyn. Its intent is to educate ob-gyns more thoroughly and promote communication with obese patients to motivate them to lose weight.

Eva Chalas, MD, District II chair, is chair of the task force, which has held three conference calls so far. Ann L. Honebrink, MD, District III secretary, and I are on the task force, as well as ACOG officers from New York, California, Ohio, and Vermont. Dr. Chalas will be presenting our work to all the district chairs at their next meeting.

The Pennsylvania Section will be submitting “The OBesity Project” for the Council of District Chairs Service Recognition Award, with a recommendation from Richard W. Henderson, MD, District III chair. I have presented the project four times, and improvements continue to be made. I am working on adding sections on surgical technique and office instrumentation issues.

The Pennsylvania Section Nominating Committee approved a slate of officers for the term beginning in October 2013. Kurt T. Barnhart, MD, current section vice chair, will serve as section chair; Lynne M. Coslett-Charlton, MD, current section treasurer, will serve as section vice chair; Stephen J. Smith, MD, current section secretary, will serve as section treasurer; and Amanda B. Flicker, MD, current District III young physician, will serve as section secretary.

In July, Abington Health, where I practice, announced a planned merger with Holy Redeemer Hospital. Abington Health, which previously had been committed to all reproductive health options for women, agreed to stop performing abortions as a condition of the merger.

The response from the medical community to this decision garnered attention very quickly. At the request of my department’s chair, I composed a letter to the hospital’s board, expressing concerns about the medical welfare of our patients and reiterating the position of ACOG on access to reproductive care, including abortion. The letter was circulated on the internet and widely read.

The press covered the issue intensively, and our medical staff and residents did interviews for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ms. magazine, The Jewish Exponent, Physicians News Digest, WHYY radio, various community papers, and several blogs. The nonprofit Catholics for Choice asked me to write a letter-to-the-editor for their magazine, Conscience, detailing the experience. The letter is in the latest issue of Conscience on page four.