William Jessee, M.D., is stepping down as head of the American Medical Association's fledgling accreditation program to become chief executive officer of the Medical Group Management Association.
Jessee, a 52-year-old healthcare quality expert, will take the helm at the Englewood, Colo.-based association July 1, replacing Thomas Adams, who resigned in September 1998. His move comes as the Chicago-based AMA is considering whether to spin off its accreditation program for physicians.
Selected from 90 candidates, Jessee garnered the unanimous approval of both a search committee and the MGMA board, said Robert Wright, board chairman. MGMA leaders cited Jessee's team-oriented approach, communication skills and association experience.
"We were looking for a personality that was self-confident but didn't have a big ego," Wright said.
For the past three years, Jessee has steered the development of one of the AMA's flagship projects: the American Medical Accreditation Program, which is seeking to judge the nation's 600,000 physicians. So far, AMAP has accredited only 1,300 physicians in eight states. And the program hasn't accomplished one of its key goals: selling data to health plans and hospitals for physician credentialing.
The AMAP governing board recently recommended that the program be spun off into a not-for-profit corporation with multiple sponsors, including the AMA and specialty medical societies, Jessee said. Diverse sponsorship could boost AMAP's credibility and assist in winning grants, he said.
Action could be taken as soon as June, when the AMA House of Delegates holds its annual meeting Chicago, said AMAP board Chairman Randolph Smoak, M.D. A search was already under way last week for Jessee's successor, Smoak said.
Four specialty societies-the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine-are seeking a role in AMAP governance.
Smoak said the AMA has invited other specialty societies to join the talks. Accrediting bodies often separate from parent organizations after becoming operational, but AMAP isn't yet self-supporting. Most likely, Smoak said, sponsoring societies would have to kick in funding.
"Many of us realized from the very beginning that at some point in the future AMAP would probably have a different governance structure," Smoak said.
Jessee called it "an ideal time for a leadership transition."
"The program is off the ground, it's running, and I'm a fairly entrepreneurial kind of guy," he said.
He added, "I'm proud of the fact that AMAP has made more accreditation decisions than NCQA," a reference to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which rates health plans.
Wright, CEO of the StarLight Group, a Nashville-based consulting firm, said AMAP's slow start is understandable. "Credentialing is a frustrating process for a lot of people. I think it's going to take some time for this thing to get off the ground," he said.
Jessee will be the first MGMA leader to hold a medical degree. He completed residencies in pediatrics and preventive medicine but never practiced medicine full time. Wright said the board wasn't necessarily looking for a physician to fill the post, and Jessee was the only doctor among six finalists.
Other than a stint as CEO for the Louisville area of Univa Health Network, a statewide provider contracting network in Kentucky, Jessee counts no experience at the helm of an organization.
In the quality realm, Jessee has published extensively in journals and served on numerous committees. His experience includes six years as an associate public health professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which he left in 1986 to join the politicized world of credentialing.
His quality experience was a plus but not key to his selection, Wright said.
In a two-year contract effective July 1, Jessee will earn an annual salary of $260,000 plus a bonus, a package similar to Adams'. The MGMA is the nation's largest association for medical group administrators, with a membership of 8,300 organizations and 21,000 individuals.
Jessee said his goals include adding "more substance" to an alliance between the AMA and the MGMA, identifying areas for membership growth, finding cost-effective ways to disseminate benchmarking data and hiring an image consultant.
The MGMA lost $1.4 million on revenues of $21 million last year, but Jessee anticipates no dues increase. The loss was attributed to less-than-anticipated revenues from a revamped dues structure and sales of educational products and services, Wright said. He said a "more realistic" budget this year set it on track to break even.