Dispatch, Day 2: Healthcare Associations Conference: Preparing for the Storm
The following is a guest post from Frank Fortin, CAE, chief digital strategist and communications director at the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Are you going to be in the kitchen or on the menu?
Time and again, that was the issue at the core of many conversations during the second day of ASAE's 2011 Healthcare Associations Conference in Baltimore, which ended Tuesday.
Whether our healthcare association represents doctors, nurses, hospitals, or something else, we are at an inflection point. The federal healthcare-reform law precipitated much of this, but if it was only about a law (which is only partially implemented), we wouldn't be feeling this way.
The first session I attended Tuesday was a terrific presentation by Shawn Scott from the North Carolina Medical Society, who walked us through how her staff and members are remaking their organization, even though her society is staunchly opposed to the federal reform law.
I next attended an offbeat session by economist Richard O'Sullivan on the five trends that are affecting healthcare associations. One might have judged his presentation too esoteric for the daily concerns of a healthcare association, but his five trends made it clear to me that we're dealing with environmental forces that will persist even if the Supreme Court or Congress eviscerates the Affordable Care Act.
Finally, Dr. Susan Nedza, an emergency physician who has worked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the American Medical Association, and other organizations, asked provocative questions about how we're going to lead our associations through these changes. She simply summarized the stark challenge: Provide better care, to more people, at a markedly lower cost.
Her most interesting concept was to embrace disruptive collaboration: working with non-traditional outsiders to address intractable problems. Conflict will inevitably result from such work, but innovation may also ensue, particularly when known approaches are getting us nowhere.
This was all brave talk about change, but I also heard lots of fear, loathing, and anxiety at the conference. Are we really that powerless to help our members face the future?
I got an insight from a book I picked up on my way home today. Jim Collins, the guy who wrote Good to Great, has just published Great by Choice, about companies that thrive in chaotic times. He starts by comparing the journeys of Roald Amundsen and Richard Fulton Scott, who famously and tragically raced to the South Pole in 1911. Amundsen got there first and returned safely to a hero's welcome. Scott got there 34 days later but froze to death trying to get back home.
What was the difference? According to Collins, Amundsen prepared for worst. He didn't wait for an unexpected storm to discover he needed more strength and endurance. His preparations were unorthodox, detailed in the extreme, but he was able to handle anything that came his way. Scott's preparations assumed one scenario, and he got another. He paid for the gamble with his life.
Our storm is here, and there's no predicting where it will take us. Just as the folks at the North Carolina Medical Society refused to let their personal views blind them to the adaption and change they needed, we have to prepare our members for the rough weather ahead, position our associations to serve them differently, and work with them to create a new future. To do anything else would be negligent.