Stay Classy San Diego: 5 Takeaways from MGMA13

Oct. 10, 2013
After spending the last 80 hours or so in San Diego (among other cities, thanks to wonderful travel layovers), I am finally back in my New York City office and am able to digest all of my MGMA conference experiences. In what was truly a meeting of the minds, there were five things I took away from the conference above everything else.

After spending the last 80 hours or so in San Diego (among other cities, thanks to wonderful travel layovers), I am finally back in my New York City office and am able to digest all of my MGMA (Medical Group Management Association) conference experiences. No, I didn’t get to check out the San Diego Zoo, as its schedule didn’t coincide with mine. But I was able to walk around the Gaslamp Quarter and experience some awesome Southern California weather, so no complaints here!

In the days leading up to MGMA, I knew that, among the multitude of other tasks I had at the conference, was keeping things in perspective, because we’re at a fascinating point in time when it comes to healthcare IT. In the last few months alone, the federal government shut down and ONC chief Farzad Mostashari stepped down, all while federal mandates continue to stare the industry right in the face. So while I did my best to cover everything at the conference itself, I spent just as much time listening, observing, and questioning (badgering) the 4,600 attendees on the state of the industry, because I felt this was as good a time as any to capture its pulse.

As such, here are five things that I took away from the MGMA conference this week (the exhibit hall lunch did make the cut, unfortunately), which truly was a meeting of the minds.

1. Culture of Accountability: These were three buzz words I heard throughout the show.  During one education session, I actually saw two attendees look at each other and speak this phrase at the same time after the presenter made a point they agreed with. I even re-tweeted a quote with the culture of accountability #hashtag, so it wasn’t just me who heard it buzzing across the conference floor and session rooms. Certainly, this is not a phrase which is new to healthcare, but perhaps one that everyone is starting to see the value in. Increasing the accountability of clinicians will reduce overuse, misuse, and underuse of resources while reducing cost. During a session where three executives from Medicare ACOs shared their real-world experiences from the last year, accountability was a big theme. When it came to talking about physician buy-in, Stephen Nuckolls, CEO, Coastal Carolina Health Care in New Bern, N.C., might have put it best when he said, “At the end of the day, there is a reward for changing the behavior.”

2. The Value is With the Patient: I went to a session on how to enable a medical home with a patient communication strategy, and much of the discussion revolved around patient portals. Without a doubt, patients are looking for easier ways to manage their health information; couple that with meaningful use Stage 2 requirements that say eligible professionals must ensure at least 5 percent of patients view, download, or transmit their electronic health records (EHRs), and it’s not hard to envision the use of patient portals skyrocketing in the future. Undoubtedly, the portal is beneficial to providers as well as patients, but the session leader, Jeanette Christopher, information systems team leader for the Milwaukie, Ore.-based Northwest Primary Care Group put it best when describing her facility’s experience with the portal: “After four years with it, we sat down and asked ourselves where the value lies? And we all came to the same conclusion: the value is with the patient.”

3. Is Hope Fading?: I must admit, when I was at HIMSS in March, the outlook on the industry just seemed different. There, I wrote about the passion of the movement towards the new healthcare; it was a vibe that I really did feel in New Orleans. I’m not saying the hope is gone, but in San Diego, that vibe wasn’t there. Maybe it was the federal government shutdown, or the lack of readiness for ICD-10, or the hope for a Stage 2 extension, but there seemed to be a lot of doom and gloom regarding federal mandates. Here’s one quick anecdote backing my theory: I was talking to someone from a well-known vendor on the exhibit floor one day, and he told me there were people he talked in the last day that haven’t even begun to plan for ICD-10. He said smaller hospitals are just hunkering down and hoping none of these mandates will take place. “Go ahead and see for yourself,” he told me. “Ask one of these [smaller] facilities what their plan is, and you’ll see them just put their heads down and stare at the floor. It’s because they don’t have one.”

4. Missing Mobile: While the interest in IT was certainly high at MGMA13, it was mostly EHR vendors that filled the conference floor. Despite the reports that mobile health is, and will continue to take off, there seemed to be a lack of mobile health presence at this conference. Are healthcare organizations behind on what could be an exponentially growing wave for the industry? There was one neat mobile app I happened to check out, and that was the AdvancedMD iPhone app, which allows for additional mobility and efficiency for physicians and their practices, allowing users to access files on the go, when desktop access—or even iPad access (released last year)—is not convenient. Maybe it was just me, but that was one of the few signs of mHealth I saw.

5. The Federal Government Shutdown Matters: During a "Washington Update" session, Jeb Shepard and Jennifer Gasperini of the MGMA government affairs staff discussed how the shutdown could affect the medical practices they run. Gasperini even said the two of them would offer free hugs, as the rest of the news they delivered was hardly uplifting. Regarding the final Medicare physician fee schedule for 2014, Shepard said that CMS is not working now, so there is no telling when the agency will inform doctors how much Medicare will pay them next year. He even said if the District of Columbia stops collecting garbage, his wife has told him to go dump it on their congressman's lawn.  That received a nice applause from clearly frustrated attendees. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, as the writing was on the wall, following a report that said the government shutdown means ONC will put on hold its Standards and Interoperability work, privacy and security policy activities, clinical quality measure development, as well as maintaining the Certified Health IT Product List.

What were your thoughts on MGMA13? Feel free to comment below or on Twitter by following me at @HCI_RLeventhal .

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