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People’s Medical Society

© Tom Ferguson MD

An Overwhelming Response. Rodale first wrote about the PMS concept in his June, 1982 Prevention editorial. "The reader response was overwhelming," he says. "Everyone thought that a consumer health society was a great idea. The people who wrote in expressed a great deal of anger at things like routine waits of an hour or more for a few minutes of testing and talk.

"The response was so favorable I decided to get serious and set up such a group. I got a lot of help and advice in the early stages from Lowell Levin, John Fiorello of The Health Strategy Group, and from Roger Craver and Tom Belford, two of the people who put together the consumer organization Common Cause. Common Cause was in many ways our model for the PMS.

"We decided we wanted to find board members who had a strong sense of the reforms that were needed, and the dedication to work hard. We did not want a bunch of rich people who were never going to do anything but write us an occasional check."

An Independent Organization. I asked Rodale about the relationship between the society, Rodale Press, and Prevention. "The PMS is a truly autonomous organization," he assured me. "The board is totally independent. They could vote to kick me out if they wanted to—and with the board members we have, I'm quite sure they'd do exactly that if they thought I was getting off the track.

"Rodale Press loaned the society the money it needed to get started. But it's all a loan. We fully expect that once the organization gets up and running, it'll be able to pay it all back.

"Right now the PMS is still pretty dependent on the editorial and advertising support of Prevention magazine and on the use of Prevention's mailing list, but they're gradually bringing in more and more members who are not Prevention subscribers."

A Knocking of Heads. I asked Rodale if he thought there would be conflict between the AUA and the PMS. He nodded sadly. "I hope we'll soon reach the point where that's not necessary, but I'm afraid that for now there may be some knocking of heads between doctors and health consumers. People are going to have to start asking for, and in some cases, demanding, what they want.

"It's the whole purpose of the PMS to make that possible. It's important that certain people-oriented principles be agreed upon, at a time other than that when one needs illness care. When you're hurting and worried and sick, that's not the time to start presenting demands. The PMS Code of Practice. "That's why we've put so much time and energy into developing the PMS Code of Practice [see sidebar]. PMS members take it to their doctors and ask them to endorse it. We'll publish a list of all the doctors in the country who do so and make it available to members and non-members alike. So when you go in to see one of those doctors, there should be no further need to discuss these matters.

"The code of practice covers three principles: dislosure, choice, and respect," Rodale explains. "Disclosure means that patients should have full access to any information they want about test results, medical records, and the doctor's fees and qualifications. Choice mean that patients are fully informed about all possible options in diagnostic procedures, treatments, and medications. Respect means that patients are treated with courtesy, responsiveness, willingness to explain, and punctuality. We plan eventually to send copies of the code to every physician in the country."

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About The Author
Tom Ferguson, M.D. (1943-2006), was a pioneering physician, author, and researcher who virtually led the movement to advocate informed self-care as the starting point for good health. Dr. Ferguson studied and wrote about the empowered medical consumer since 1975 and about online health resources for consumers since 1987. He founded the influential journal Medical Self-Care and the......more
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