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"Roadway Warrior" Assumes AAOS Presidency

By: Jennie McKee

Jennie McKee

We orthopaedic surgeons have the best specialty in medicine,” said John R. Tongue, MD, who assumed the presidency of the AAOS during yesterday’s Ceremonial Meeting. “We help everyone—people of all ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles. Being able to improve people’s quality of life is a very positive experience.”

AAOS President John R. Tongue, MD

Dr. Tongue will draw on his enthusiasm for orthopaedics and his decades of experience as a volunteer, leader, and safety advocate to help shape AAOS initiatives in the year ahead.

AAOS President John R. Tongue, MD, escorted by his two daughters, Laura and Lisa.

Advocating for safety, communication
An unapologetic “roadway warrior,” Dr. Tongue’s long-time traffic safety efforts stem from the rollover car crash he survived as a teenager because he was wearing his seatbelt. He helped enact a statewide safety belt law that has reduced vehicular fatalities and injuries in his home state of Oregon. In fact, the percentage of drivers in Oregon who wear safety belts has more than doubled—from 45 percent before the law was enacted to 97 percent today.

“Road safety has been my personal focus for some time,” said Dr. Tongue, who received the AAOS Humanitarian Award in 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association Public Service Award, and the Oregon Medical Association’s Doctor-Citizen of the Year Award for these efforts. “It is timely that the AAOS has a national public service awareness initiative warning about the threat of orthopaedic trauma associated with distracted driving.”

The AAOS “Decide to Drive” initiative, he said, “is a carefully planned and effective message with good advice on choices that all drivers, including our members, can make while behind the wheel to help prevent crash-related injuries.”

Improving communication between patients and orthopaedists is another of Dr. Tongue’s passions. A pioneer of the AAOS Communications Skills Mentoring Program, which began in 2000, he has helped teach skills that are essential for building trust and understanding between patients and physicians.

“We’ve presented more than 300 workshops to more than 5,000 of our members in the last 12 years,” he said, noting that diagnosing patients is not usually the biggest challenge in orthopaedics.

“Fitting the treatment plan to the lifestyle of each individual patient is the real challenge,” he said. “Our patients don’t want to be the ‘left shoulder in Room 2.’ They want to be our partners. We’re making progress on that.”

An evidence-based, orthopaedic team training pilot program recently approved by the AAOS Board of Directors that focuses on improving communication will take patient safety a step further.

“Orthopaedic-specific training will help ‘teams of experts’ become ‘expert teams,’ reducing stress and improving care,” he said.

Critical issues for the AAOS
Enhancing communication between patients and physicians is just one area Dr. Tongue plans to focus on during his presidency. He sees healthcare reform, demonstrating the quality and value of orthopaedic surgery, and improving patient safety as key issues facing the AAOS.

“Even though the healthcare reform by itself may not bring the savings many have promised,” he added, “the AAOS must continue to seek innovative means to add value, whenever possible.”

That could mean continuing to work on quality initiatives and educating legislators and payers about the socioeconomic value of orthopaedic interventions.

“The challenge is that payers view our interventions as being relatively expensive compared to other medical care and don’t see the benefits to society from the outcomes of our work,” he said.

As chair of the AAOS Social and Economic Value of Orthopaedics Project Team, appointed by AAOS Immediate Past President Daniel J. Berry, MD, Dr. Tongue is well aware of those benefits to society. For nearly a year, the project team has been working with health economists on a study to articulate, quantify, and even monetize the value of orthopaedic care to help illustrate how it benefits society by getting people back to work and enabling seniors to live independently.

In the coming year, he said, the AAOS “will reach out with this research to make our case on value and access to orthopaedic patient care.”

Education and background
Dr. Tongue graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the St. Louis University School of Medicine. He served his internship and general surgery residency at the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland, Ore., before completing his orthopaedic surgery residency at the San Francisco Orthopaedic Residency Program. He then went on to a sports medicine fellowship at the Orthopaedic Fracture Clinic in Eugene, Ore., and a hand surgery fellowship at UCSF.

Active in several professional societies, Dr. Tongue also is a member of the American Orthopaedic Association, the Western Orthopaedic Association, and the Oregon Medical Association. He has authored more than 80 articles, publications, book chapters, and presentations.

Dr. Tongue maintains a private practice in Tualatin, Ore., and also is a clinical associate professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. As a community-based orthopaedist, he represents the majority of AAOS members.

“I share the concerns of community-based practitioners about running a private practice while balancing a surgical and office schedule,” he said.

Importance of volunteering
Dr. Tongue’s two decades of experience as an AAOS volunteer include service on the AAOS Board of Directors, the AAOS Board of Councilors, and numerous committees and task forces, including the Council on Education, the Committee on Public Education, and the Council on Research and Quality.

“Volunteering is the icing on the cake of a successful career,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to make a difference, for each of us to do something meaningful, to learn new things and to grow. Giving back is a great privilege.”

Volunteers can’t be successful, he noted, without the support of their families.

“I am so grateful to my family for their support,” he said. “My wife, Nancy, is truly the love of my life—I adore her. She is a nurse, so she understands the pressures and commitments in medicine. We have three happy, healthy children—Christopher, Laura, and Lisa, and are expecting our first grandchild in April.”

Dr. Tongue said he is “humbled and excited” by the challenge of leading the AAOS.

“The AAOS truly stands out as one of the most outstanding medical organizations anywhere,” he said. “I am honored to serve as president.”

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