Finding your way through the membership maze

Which groups are best suited to your needs?

Every practice in America gets solicitations to join professional organizations. But with reimbursements down, most are reevaluating their expenditures on some of these organizations.

Should you join any at all? Yes, says Andrea Eliscu, RN, president of Medical Marketing in Winter Park, FL, but only if you can get something out of your membership.

Eliscu also recommends you look into joining some local groups - like your chamber of commerce or economic development council. "It's an opportunity to bring a representative from your practice to the business community," she says. "Those relationships can pay off in big ways if there is an opportunity for direct contracting, executive physicals, and event sponsorship."

Who, what, where, and how much?

To help you wade through the costs and benefits of the national organizations, we've put together a list of the main organizations, how to contact them, and what you can expect to get from your money.

Along with those listed, there are also several specialty administrator organizations which you might want to look into, such as the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators in Sudbury, MA, or the Association of Dermatology Administrators in Schaumburg, IL. Check with your specialty society to see if there is one which might apply to you.

    r American College of Physician Executives Suite 200, 4890 West Kennedy Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609 Telephone: (800) 562-8088 Fax: (813) 287-8993 Web site: www.acpe.org

Membership: 14,000 MDs and DOs with an interest in exploring management careers or an interest in taking on management roles.

Cost: $215 the first year, $185 thereafter. Students - you must have graduated from medical school - can join for $50, and retired physicians for $75.

Publications: Physician Executive, a bimonthly journal, and College Digest (soon to be called ACPE News), a bimonthly newsletter.

Other Benefits: Discounts on all educational programs, books, and products sold by the college. Members are also eligible to participate in a graduate program in medical management provided in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon and Tulane universities. Members take courses and exams through the ACPE, then participate in a short on-campus program. After passing final exams, a master's degree in medical management is awarded.

Regional operations: None. But some members have formed local groups to meet and talk, and the college does provide assistance in starting such ad hoc groups.

    r American Medical Group Association 1422 Duke St. Alexandria, VA 22314 Telephone: (703) 838-0033 Fax: (703) 548-1890 Web site: www.amga.org

Membership: 250 member practices, mostly larger multispecialty groups. The target members are practices with more than 25 physicians, but any practice can join providing they meet the following criteria: a physician-led organization, willing to accept risk, have stable financial and governance structures, and have a quality-driven mission statement.

Cost: A base cost of $3,600 annually plus a per full-time-equivalent (FTE) cost based on the group size. For the first 250, the cost is $110 per FTE. It decreases to $60 per FTE for the next 250 staff, $25 each for 500 to 999, and $5 for each additional.

Publications: Group Practice Journal, published 10 times per year; a monthly legislative publication called Executive News Service; a five-tape video set on various group practice issues which can count towards CME requirements; and two surveys, one on compensation and productivity and another on group practice financial operations.

Other benefits: Members have access to 10 years of benchmarking data on nine different disease conditions, as well as access to the largest patient satisfaction database in the country. There are also data available for members on financial operations as it pertains to managed care, such as per member per month rates, or bed days per 1,000. There are monthly teleconference sessions, too, called TeleNet, in which members can call a toll-free number to hear a half-hour presentation by a nationally recognized expert on a variety of issues. Past presentations include physician satisfaction, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate compliance programs.

Regional operations: Offices in Seal Beach, CA, Mt. Vernon, WA, and Atlanta. A Midwestern site will open in the next year. Regional meetings are held quarterly, and AMGA is going to begin holding regularly scheduled regional teleconferences.

    r Medical Group Management Association 104 Inverness Terrace East Englewood, CO 80112-5306 Telephone: (888) 608-5601 Web site: www.mgma.com

Membership: 20,000 individuals and 9,000 organizations make this the largest of the professional organizations discussed here. There are also several hundred affiliate members. The membership includes administrators, physicians, and other leaders in all types and sizes of practices. Most are single specialty practices, but 39% are multispecialty. A quarter have 11 or more physicians, but 44% have fewer than six doctors.

Cost: $325 for individuals and $50 for students. Organizations can choose from several levels of membership, from $325 for a single individual, $995 for two individuals plus $200 for each additional, or $2,995 for three individuals plus $200 for each additional.

The different organizational memberships convey all the benefits of individual members, plus additional discounts depending on which level you choose. Affiliate members pay from $325 to $6,900 per year depending on how many individuals get member benefits. Among the additional benefits corporate membership conveys are discounts on advertising in MGMA publications, exhibit space at MGMA meetings, and mailing lists.

Publications: MGMA Journal, a bimonthly scholarly journal; MGMA Update, a semimonthly newspaper, the MGMA Directory, an annual resource guide, and an on-line directory.

Other benefits: Special rates on education, placement and career services, library resources, products, consulting and other contract services, and access to special interest organizations and scholarships. The MGMA also offers certification and fellowship in the American College of Medical Practice Executives, an organization with which it is closely affiliated.

The organization produces benchmarking reports for group practices on costs, production, management salaries, and physician compensation. There are similar reports available for academic practices. MGMA also has a close affiliation with the Center for Research in Ambulatory Health Care Administration, which provides research on costs, productivity, governance, and technology.

Regional operations: While there are no regional offices, there are regional sections and state and local chapters. There are also specialty and special interest sections available.

    r Professional Association of Health Care Office Managers 461 East Ten Mile Road Pensacola, FL 32534-9712 Telephone: (800) 451-9311 Fax: (850) 474-6352 Web site: www.pahcom.com

Membership: 3,100 office managers and practice administrators of ambulatory care practices join PAHCOM. While there is no stated target membership, it tends to be among solo and smaller practices - the groups for which it was created 10 years ago. Not limited to managers or administrators, the members also includes health care office workers within medical, dental, osteopathic, and allied science professions.

Cost: Individual membership is $125 per year, corporate members can join for $250, and students carrying at least a three-fourths workload can join for $45. The student rate is also available for instructors in the health care office management field who don't otherwise qualify for active or corporate membership. Student members may not vote or hold national office.

Publications: Medical Office Management, a bi-monthly newsletter, and a national directory of members.

Other benefits: Members can receive assistance on problem solving through the toll free number, a national certification program for medical office management; discounts of products and services from most corporate members, free initial legal advice/consultation through the National Resource Center for Consumers of Legal Services, and 20% off normal legal fees for other legal services.

Members also receive a publication called the PAHCOM Management Guidebook which is a practice management operations manual including forms; a flat rate long distance service at 9.9 cents per minute, resume development services, employee recruitment testing; and a flat fee collection service.

PAHCOM says its single biggest benefit is the development of a communications network among managers throughout the country. The national office often refers members with a specific problem to peers in other parts of the country who have experience in that area.

Regional operations: There are 42 local chapters in 16 states which promote networking among members. Where there are no local chapters, PAHCOM has area representatives and regional coordinators available to the membership and to prospective members.

    r Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development One North Franklin Street, Suite 1300 Chicago, IL 60606 Telephone: (312) 422-3739 Fax: (312) 422-4579 Web site: www.stratsociety.org

Membership: Affiliated with the American Hospital Association, the membership is made up entirely of individuals, not organizations. While most members are hospitals and health systems and networks, there are physician groups who derive benefits from the organization and its marketing emphasis and expertise.

Cost: $185 per year. This also confers membership in the American Hospital Association.

Publications: A bimonthly magazine called Hospitals and Health Networks, a membership and services directory, a biweekly career bulletin available through the Web site or the fax-on-demand service, and the bimonthly newsletter Spectrum.

Other benefits: There are educational forums, national research studies, and a professional recognition awards program. Members also get a calendar listing 250 health related events and activities of national significance that can help members plan events, and a directory of health care consultants.

Regional operations: There are no regional branches, but the society has ongoing relationships with about 50 local, state, and regional associations composed of health care marketing, planning, physician services, and PR executives.