The AMA and Sermo break up, and how it’s getting ugly

When the online physician discussion site, Sermo, and the American Medical Association joined forces in 2007, it was heralded as a promising partnership for both entities.

In fact, as Sermo’s CEO Daniel Palestrant said back then, “As a company, we had to take a very rational perspective on that by saying we’re a small software company, not an advocacy organization. Who is the best entity to turn voice into action? Without a doubt that’s the AMA.”

And the AMA was no less enthusiastic: “Engaging with Sermo’s virtual community adds to the resources the AMA can call upon to rapidly assess and respond to the issues and concerns of physicians across the United States.”

Well, fast forward to July 2009, and now they have parted ways. And like many divorces, it’s messy.

Scott Shreeve has published a missive that Dr. Palestrant posted on Sermo on July 1st, rebuking the AMA:

As physicians, our first step in the healthcare debate needs to be clearing the air about who speaks for us on what topics. Today, I am joining the increasing waves of physicians who believe that the AMA no longer speaks for us. As the founder and CEO of Sermo, this is a considerable change of heart, given the high hopes that I had when we first partnered with the AMA over two years ago. The sad fact is that the AMA membership has now shrunk to the point where the organization should no longer claim that it represents physicians in this country.

I asked the AMA to comment on the situation, and last night, they answered with this reply:

The AMA has decided not to continue its business relationship with Sermo.

The AMA is always looking for effective ways to communicate with physicians. After an evaluation of the initial relationship with Sermo, we have decided that the value was not there to justify the investment of AMA members’ dues dollars. We continue to explore ways to communicate more effectively with all physicians.

Furthermore, they also sent me their response to Dr. Palestrant’s remarks, writing, “As for Dr. Palestrant’s sudden ‘change of heart’ regarding the AMA, one can only speculate. He ardently courted the AMA when launching his business two years ago, and now he expresses scorn immediately following the end of that business relationship.”

I am a member of Sermo, and support what they are trying to do. They’ve made great strides since their inception several years ago.

I also support the AMA’s initiatives, and indeed, they are regular contributors on this blog. It’s a shame that the situation has degenerated into such an ugly situation.

I also understand the sentiment within the physician community that the AMA may not represent the majority of doctor’s interests, and wrote about it a few weeks ago. But, they’re the best advocacy organization we have, like them or not, which is important in the current health reform environment. As such, perhaps it’s not the best time for physicians to bicker among themselves.

Politicians will find it easier to ignore multiple, fragmented physician advocacy groups rather than a single, unified physician voice.

So, while I can sympathize with Dr. Palestrant’s concerns, which undoubtedly echo those of many other doctors, I’m not sure bashing the most influential physician advocacy organization in the country, in terms of Congressional lobbying power and money, is the most productive strategy right now.