Q&A: New AOA president focuses on building trust, supporting mental health
The new president of American Osteopathic Association said he will help the organization meet the needs of medicine in the 21st century and maintain the principles on which it was founded more than 100 years ago.
“We started out as a profession leaning towards taking care of our patients and keeping them well,” Joseph A. Giaimo, DO, MACOI, FCCP, said in an interview. “The message now is that we are here to help you when you are sick, but more importantly, try to keep you well.”
Giaimo, who is the 125th president of the AOA, graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency and fellowship training at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He is board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and sleep medicine, and has been working in private practice in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, for more than 3 decades. Giaimo is also a commander with the Naval Reserves and active in several national, state and local medical organizations.
In an interview with Healio Primary Care, he discussed his priorities as president, highlights of his career, and more.
Healio Primary Care: What are your priorities for the AOA?
Giaimo: I am focused on continuing to build the trust that physicians have of the health care system. I also want to make sure people look at their physician as a trusted health care provider and as somebody who is going to speak to them about the health and the science and keeping them healthy. I also want to support the mental health of patients, physicians and colleagues.
These are huge challenges.
I am a practicing pulmonologist who has been involved with the COVID-19 pandemic from the onset. I see the enormous stresses my patients and my colleagues face. There are also the administrative burdens that came with the pandemic, such as how do you stop on a dime and switch to telemedicine and zoom calls, when osteopathic physicians have always been a face-to-face profession, sitting across from each other and maintaining that connectivity to take care of patients?
I also want to celebrate the incredible growth of the osteopathic profession. Over the last 3 decades, the number of us has increased 300%. We now have more than 168,000 doctors of osteopathic medicine and osteopathic medical students. In the United States alone, one out of four medical students are going to osteopathic schools. These numbers fascinate me and it’s an incredible sight to see.
Healio Primary Care: Please discuss the AOA’s overarching theme this year, “DO Proud.”
Giaimo: “DO Proud” is about how the osteopathic profession has grown over the years to have a presence in many places, such as NASA, the Tokyo Olympics and the White House. It also is about the osteopathic profession serving our country in so many ways and the profession’s proud philosophy of treating patients in every specialty.
Healio Primary Care: Aside from being inaugurated as AOA president, what are some other highlights of your career?
Giaimo: I was appointed by a past U.S. president to serve on the Physician Advisory Council for Medicare for a number of years, where I worked as a direct conduit between CMS and the house of medicine to discuss things like electronic health records and physician-retention initiatives. That was a wonderful time for me.
On a personal note, I am proud of meeting the woman who is now my wife and having two children. I also am proud of when my father, who was a Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate like me, was able to be at my graduation.
Healio Primary Care: What have you learned from your experiences in the U.S. Naval Reserves that helps you as a physician?
Giaimo: I had always believed in military service. I also had cousins that served in the U.S. Navy. As I completed my residency and fellowship, I joined the Naval Reserves and then had a chance to deploy with them on multiple different things for several different mobile fleet hospitals. Everything was about accomplishing a mission as part of a team and taking care of your patients the best that you could, sometimes with limited resources, which were valuable lessons.
Healio Primary Care: What should physicians be telling patients about COVID-19 and how to prevent it?
Giaimo: We need to convince everyone who can be vaccinated, to be vaccinated. I saw the first COVID-19 patients from Palm Beach County back in 2019. Since that time, I have seen this disease evolve in significant ways. In the last 10 days, I've probably seen upwards of 20 to 30 patients with COVID-19, and only two of them had received vaccinations. Vaccines limit the severity of the illness and help prevent those people from being hospitalized and thus, provide a huge benefit to our patients and our communities
We also need to remind people to wear a mask when they are out in public or not feeling well, to wash their hands and to maintain social distancing. We need to tell patients that if they do not feel well, they should not go to work and other public places and to stay at home, take care for yourself and seek medical attention.
Healio Primary Care: Family medicine and other primary care practices have taken a significant financial hit due to the pandemic. How has the AOA helped affected physicians?
Giaimo: AOA recently released a survey that showed 95% of osteopathic physicians had a significant decrease in revenue to their practice in the past year. Many of these practices are small ones.
We created webinars to help members applying for government loans and implementing telemedicine. We also did our best to provide personal protective equipment to as many of our members as possible, because as you know, there was a time when it was very hard to find.
We are also trying to prevent Medicare reimbursement cuts. Although we fight that battle every year, it takes on an added significance this year with so many practices having lower revenues and problems maintaining staff. We are also advocating for the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Act to help physicians who are experiencing mental health conditions.
Healio Primary Care: What are AOA’s next steps?
Giaimo: We will continue our legislative efforts to support our members and make sure that everybody has access to care. One thing we really learned during this present pandemic is that there are huge gaps in our health care system, and we need to make sure it functions correctly.
AOA. American Osteopathic Association installs Joseph Giaimo, DO, as 125th president. https://osteopathic.org/2021/07/17/american-osteopathic-association-installs-joseph-giaimo-do-as-125th-president/. Accessed Aug. 5, 2021.