Turn out the lights. The party's over. Or is it?
This week's American Hospital Association summer convention and trade show in Philadelphia is the AHA's last, ending a tradition that dates back to 1899. The meeting has fallen victim to a number of forces, including declining attendance, executives' changing educational needs, the growth of specialty trade shows and the AHA's desire to get out of the convention business.
In fact, this year's AHA convention likely would have been canceled if it were not for a bailout from the Middle Atlantic Health Congress, which became a co-sponsor of the 1996 event.
The Middle Atlantic itself is going out of business, being replaced by a show sponsored solely by the New Jersey Hospital Association. The two remaining sponsors of the Middle Atlantic, the hospital associations from Delaware and Pennsylvania, decided to pull out of the show as did the Hospital Association of New York State in 1994.
Lest sentimental attendees of this year's AHA convention get teary eyed over conventions past, the assembly this week in Philadelphia really is a staging ground for the future of the AHA and its educational programming for senior-level healthcare managers.
During the three-day convention in Philadelphia Aug. 5-7, attendees will get a taste of the "self-directed" learning opportunities the AHA has been developing for healthcare executives over the past two years. In fact, the convention officially marks the end of the association as a sponsor of the well-traveled healthcare lecture circuit.
Although some lecture circuit veterans will be featured speakers, the convention will offer for the first time a subset of educational programs exclusively for healthcare executives, dubbed "Executive Leadership Seminars."
"We view the Philadelphia convention as a transition between our old and new style of educational programming," said Christine McEntee, the AHA's executive vice president.
McEntee defined the "old" style as the traditional convention with big-name speakers and a trade show that appealed to all levels of healthcare management. She said the "new" style consists of focused, interactive and peer-driven educational programming for healthcare senior management teams, consisting of chief executives, board members and physician leaders.
The Executive Leadership Seminars at the convention, for example, will consist of five separate seminars over the first two days of the three-day convention. The topics include risk-sharing arrangements, hospital-physician integration and three programs on integrated delivery systems.
Although overall attendance at the convention is expected to be down from recent years, the executive seminar series was sold out as of late last week, according to an AHA spokesman.
Also sold out was another meeting targeted at a constituency group coveted by the AHA: hospital trustees. During the two days immediately before the convention, the AHA held its Trustee Leadership Forum, which also featured eight intensive workshops on governance-related issues rather than the usual lecture-circuit gurus.
The changes are part of the AHA's overall strategy of getting executives out of a classroom orchestrated by a healthcare "expert" and into the field to learn from their peers.
"This is consistent with what we've been hearing from our members," McEntee said. "They want to be closer to home, learn from their peers and focus on restructuring issues."
Over the past two years, the AHA gradually has been replacing the old style educational programming with the new. The new offerings include:
"Action learning labs," which are intensive two-day conferences hosted on site by AHA member hospitals or systems. Three action learning labs are held during the year. The first was held this year at PMH Health Resources in Phoenix. The second and third will be hosted this fall by Ochsner Medical Institutions in New Orleans and Crozer-Keystone Health System in Media, Pa.
Five to eight one-day "case example" seminars cosponsored by state and local hospital associations annually. Like the action learning labs, these one-day conferences are hosted on site by AHA member hospitals or systems on specific topics.
And five to eight regional meetings annually, called "regional trustee forums," again targeted at trustees of hospitals and healthcare systems.