A strong current of nostalgia flowed through the final American Hospital Association convention this month in Philadelphia. No doubt some of the reminiscing was attributable to the principle that you don't miss what you have until it's gone.
But numerous attendees wondered about what will replace the premiere annual hospital gathering. Some executives fear they are losing a significant opportunity to share information, commiserate and have a forum for their concerns at a time when it's desperately needed.
AHA leaders believe the association's future is rooted in the electronic age. As a practical matter, mundane communications and even routine votes of the association's house of delegates can be conducted by fax bulletins and e-mail.
Such advanced technologies eliminate costly and time-consuming travel. But in times of uncertainty and change, nothing replaces face-to-face contact. Furthermore, remote transactions tend to promote top-down directives rather than fostering participatory involvement.
AHA brass also has elected to focus its attention on the senior hospital management team, including medical staff leaders and trustees. That's certainly a key group, but middle managers also need a forum where they can meet among themselves and with the top tier of management.
Narrowing its audience seems an odd tactic for the AHA to adopt, especially when officials such as AHA chairman-elect Reginald Ballantyne III have been talking publicly about making the AHA an association for integrated delivery systems.
The AHA will offer opportunities for executives to go on field trips to learn from progressive organizations. The association also seeks to expand participation at its Washington policy meeting. But it may be missing a golden opportunity to advance a framework for provider-based integrated financing and delivery of care. Conventions offer forums where physicians, insurers and other participants in integrated networks can work toward common goals and develop strategies that foster unity and coherence.
Mounting relevant meetings will be a future challenge for the association. Such events must combine opportunities for networking, education, member feedback and creation of a vision for tomorrow's healthcare enterprise.