Unlike many clinical experts, patient access leaders may be viewed by hospital leaders as operating mostly “behind the scenes.”

Presenting at conferences is a great way to change that outdated perception, says Elizabeth Reason, MSA, CHAM, CBCS, National Association of Healthcare Access Management (NAHAM) conference planning committee chair.

Submit a proposal for a “Learning Lab” session. “Maybe they’ve had an innovative project at their facility and can present on that,” says Reason, patient access director at Lake Huron Medical Center in Port Huron, MI.

NAHAM changed its Learning Lab format at its 2019 annual conference by adding “Lightning Learning Labs.” Previously, Learning Labs were presented in 90-minute increments. The new format allows for some 45-minute sessions so more topics are covered. “It allows newer speakers to focus on a short, hands-on style presentation,” Reason adds.

Shorter sessions are less daunting and more personal. “The hands-on approach allows the speaker to really connect with the audience as they share their patient access story,” Reason observes.

Partner with a technology leader. Together, patient access leaders and vendors can tell a story on how the department boosted point-of-service collections, patient satisfaction, or efficiency. “We love it when people have stories to tell about something they did, whether it worked or didn’t work,” Reason says.

Create an interesting webinar idea. This is an easy way for patient access leaders to get their foot in the door, and gradually work up to presenting at conferences. Kirsten Shaffer, CAE, NAHAM’s executive director, says, “NAHAM is always willing to consider webinar ideas. It’s a lower-pressure avenue.”

Join a group of presenters. When the conference committee encounters several proposals with the same broad theme, they evaluate it for possible panel presentations or preconference symposiums.

“If people haven’t had a lot of speaking experience, we can pair them up with somebody who does,” Reason reports.

Develop speaking skills within the department. “Some people have a great topic to present, but they are nervous about doing it,” Reason observes.

The patient access department devised an alternative way to help staff gain public speaking expertise. At the annual staff meeting, members from each area deliver a short presentation as part of a team. “Staff often stated that they didn’t understand what was different about various other patient access areas,” Reason notes.

To clear up confusion, a few employees from each area were asked to talk briefly. The presenters, many of whom have never spoken publicly, talked for five or 10 minutes at the most. “Partnering up with somebody is a little easier,” Reason says. “It takes the fear factor away.” For Reason, speaking at conferences sparked success in the field.

“Early in my career, I had opportunities to present locally, then nationally, and grasped them. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been where I am today,” Reason says.

Good speakers soon find themselves in high demand as subject matter experts. “We share a lot of information. We’ll call a colleague and ask if they know someone with expertise in a particular topic,” Reason explains.

NAHAM’s annual conference covers a broad range of topics, ranging from leadership in patient access to software implementation and process improvements. “One of the things we saw this year were a lot of presentations on diversity and inclusion,” Reason reports.

The conference committee reviewed about 70 proposals, assigning scores for innovation and relevancy. Not all were selected, but Reason encourages perseverance: “If it doesn’t happen the first time, keep trying.”