“If you look at the impact of allergic disease on the diseases that we treat, both in allergy and immunology as well as in otolaryngology, the overlap is amazing,” said Dr. Marple. The number of otolaryngologists who are practicing allergy is significant (approximately 4000, according to conservative estimates of the AAOA), said Harold C. Pillsbury, MD, President of the Triological Society, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill, and Chair of the AAOA’s Socioeconomic Committee. “At some point, when two people are doing similar things and it’s clear that they’re both going to be in this market for a while, it makes more sense to collaborate than to butt heads with each other.”
Most of those interviewed for this article agree that the opportunity to grasp these commonalities grew from confronting a shared dilemma: the prospect of reduced reimbursements.
Strength in Numbers
“Sometimes,” said Jami Lucas, Executive Director of the AAOA, “the best impetus for unified efforts is to have somebody else be the ‘bad guy.’” That’s precisely what occurred in 1999 and 2000, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), then the Health Care Finance Administration, moved to change the definition and interpretation of a common allergy code used by both general allergists and otolaryngologists who practiced allergy. “We found,” said Ms. Lucas, “that we were a stronger unit working together than working separately or even in parallel.”