MGMA 2012: Small steps, big changes

I spent a couple days this week at the annual meeting of the Medical Group Management Association, in San Antonio.  I had the opportunity to speak about healthcare social media to an engaged crowd (see synopsis here), and to attend a number of other interesting sessions.  As always, the hallway conversations, chats with vendors in and around the trade show booths, and the twitter back channel were among the most interesting parts of the experience. This meeting is larger than most that I tend to go to -- over 5000 attendees -- and there was quite a variety to the sessions -- ranging from the typical education sessions in parallel tracks, to general sessions with speakers who are as much performers as anything else, to presentations by sponsors/exhibitors both on-site and off-site. I encourage you to dip into the #MGMA12 tweetstream to get the full effect, and a better sense of the variety of what was on offer in San Antonio. 

Some folks with greater intestinal fortitude and more staying power than I can lay claim to -- including @IngaHIStalk -- made it to all of the vendor parties Monday evening. I was happy to make it to one, where Jonathan Bush of athenahealth was in fine form, braying as usual about the strength of his company's offerings and financial performance, and even donning WWF garb as athenaLibre to take on "The Meaningful Abuser."

One of the key takeaways from the meeting for me is confirmation of the introduction that I often include when I speak at outside of the Boston area -- I'm from the future.  Many basic assumptions that I have about the way healthcare works, the direction it's headed, and the things government does to it along the way are not necessarily built in to everyone's baseline thoughts about the healthcare environment.  National health reform is based in large part on the Massachusetts experience to date, and Part 3 of Massachusetts health reform is just getting underway, with a move towards limits on the growth of the health care spend (Mass. GDP +1%), ACOs for all, and an abandonment of fee-for-service reimbursement. These developments are necessary because we must all focus on improving quality while reducing cost. We will first begin to control the rate of growth in health care reimbursement, and then reimbursement levels will be heading inexorably downward. We can't wait until the health care spend cracks 20% of GDP. In order to address these hard truths, many theories and services and products are cropping up -- and they were all on offer at MGMA 2012.  

All the companies whose names begin with a lower-case "e" or are invented words were there to pitch their visions of integrated electronic management of the physician practice: including its patients, patient records, business intelligence, billing and collections. Meaningful use of certified electronic health records is just the tip of the iceberg.