MGMA 2017 preview: Payment tools, efficiency, MACRA top priorities for practice leaders

Collaboration and discussion appear to be the key selling points of the Medical Group Management Association’s upcoming annual conference, being held October 8-11 in Anaheim, California.

The theme this year is “empower,” which MGMA’s assistant director of project management, Joan Hablutzel, MBA, said fits with the many roundtable discussion sessions with practice leaders scheduled for the show.

“It was just an idea that we’re going to help you grow personally, professionally and as your organization,” Hablutzel said.

She spoke to HealthExec about what new and repeat attendees can expect at this year’s conference, including what practice leaders have asked to see from vendors in the exhibit hall.

HealthExec: Practice leaders could probably find a conference to attend almost every week if that’s what they desired. What sets MGMA’s 2017 show apart?

Joan Hablutzel, MBA: We have a rich history with providing conferences behind us and great feedback on the education that we provide. Our education comes at many different levels, we have everything from the beginning career to the advanced careerist. We have a lot of experts that come to this conference that are teaching each other from lessons they’ve learned. A lot of challenges are brought to the conference and then connections are made to help people work through these, so it’s not just a conference where people sit in didactic sessions and just get talked at. They really can make connections and learn from each other and learn from the experts that are coming.

We have a wide variety of topic areas that we cover. Some healthcare conferences that you can go to are very specific, but we cover a wide breadth of areas and we can show how they all connect to each other and how they all affect each other. Like how your personnel leadership and you staff leadership affects your finances. Going to just a HR conference gives you a narrow view, but coming to our conference gives you that wide view and helps you connect all the areas together to really lead your practice as a whole.

What topics do you expect to dominate discussions at the conference this year?

Some of our most popular sessions year after year—and that’s no different this year, especially with what’s going on—deal with government affairs. We also have a new topic area which is specifically federal laws and regulations. We expect those to be some of most popular session. We’ll also have an actual live hacking demo session, so people can see, with all the cybersecurity concerns, how hackers are actually getting into their systems. Practice transformation is another big area where we’ll see a lot of attendance and that’s everything to do with partnerships, data analytics, engaging patients online.

New this year, we’re doing [electronic health record] roundtables. With all our organizations implementing EHRs, everybody’s trying to figure out how to make it efficient and to best utilize their EHRs. We’re having user groups centered around the specific EHRs where people can learn from others and talk about best practices and how they’ve learned to work within the system and what things can be added onto the system to make them better.

You mentioned government affairs being a popular topic—do you expect a lot of talk at the conference about the Affordable Care Act and the debate about its future which has been taking place in Congress?

We have staff members in our Washington, D.C. advocacy office that will present our government affairs sessions and they’ll talk about current issues and stuff they’re advocating for when it comes to the new healthcare bills. All their sessions center on what’s going right now within the government and within healthcare. Most of their content is developed two weeks or one week before the conference and then they bring the most up-to-date information to the conference.

Besides the EHR user groups, what will be new to repeat attendees of the conference?

We’re also doing more specific roundtables on topics we typically haven’t done roundtables on. We have a session on opioid management, which is a hot topic now, and integrating behavioral health into practices. Those roundtables will, again, allow people to learn from each other from people who are doing it in practice right now. We also have several sessions of efficiency and how to create efficiency within your practice with new technology. We haven’t typically talked about the new technology that is out there, like real-time location systems.

What kind of product or service do you expect to be attendees’ highest priority when they’re looking around the show floor?

Anything to do with collecting and estimating patient payment. Patient payment up front or on the back end, so things like cost estimators, any type of product or service that can help our practices with cost estimating or collecting the patient payments from the back end. Also, anything to do with patient engagement and engagement platforms, like patient portals, add-ons to the portals, how to introduce patient education and get them engaged to their care. All that stuff is attaching itself to the new way that payment is being reimbursed from the insurance companies, so all these tools and services that connect patients to the care are going to be big. And then anything to help with efficiency and trying to do more with less, so products and services that look at how a space of a practice works, how the scheduling flows [and] staffing tools. Those are all things that we’ve asked for and asked to make sure we have at the conference.

What about products or services for the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) under MACRA—are practices at the point of needing those tools?

People are there. Most of these products that deal with MIPS and MACRA, they’re products where their sole purpose usually isn’t MIPS or MACRA, but they’re components of other products. If you look at collecting patient payments and estimating costs, making sure your contracts are up-to-date, all of those kind of flow into certain portions of MIPS and MACRA. If there are products and services specifically designed for MIPS and MACRA—and I believe there are a few consulting services that focus on that—then yes, those are going to be hot button items.