Hang in there. That's the unofficial theme of this year's Healthcare Financial Management Association's Annual National Institute, scheduled for June 25-28 in Orlando, Fla.
Financial professionals are dealing with unprecedented change in both their institutions and careers. Pressure is coming from Medicare cutbacks, managed care, regulatory changes, government fraud-and-abuse crackdowns, and cost increases.
In this climate, many find it hard to salvage the time or money necessary to attend educational events. Turnout at last year's institute was down 20%, with 1,300 paid attendees vs. 1,500 in 1998.
HFMA's new chairman, Connie Cape, says financial professionals "should not fear the changes occurring in our jobs and the industry."
Cape, who is vice president and chief financial officer of Mercy Memorial Hospital Corp. in Monroe, Mich., selected an optimistic official theme for this year's institute: "Imagine the Possibilities."
HFMA President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Clarke says the forward-looking message is important, "given how down people have been" in the hospital finance field.
A year ago financial professionals were preoccupied with trying to make their numbers work as they took a financial hit from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Clarke says. Meanwhile, staff and training budgets were being reduced, and some people might not have been crazy about the location of last year's institute, in Anaheim, Calif., he says.
The HFMA expects a rebound in attendance this year. It hopes pressing issues such as outpatient prospective payment for Medicare and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 will draw people back.
About 1,500 paid attendees are expected, with another 500 exhibitors and faculty members. Exhibiting companies will number 220, up from 210 last year.
"What we're finding is a lot of people are attending educational events again," Clarke says. "The biggest factor is time. But yet you've got to take the time. There are so many issues being thrown at people all at once."
The HFMA has attempted to respond to tighter budgets by lowering the early registration price for members by $100, to $699. To compensate for the revenue loss, it's expanded the number of sponsors and exhibitors and trimmed expenses, Clarke says.
Also this year the HFMA is placing more emphasis on practical topics, such as Medicare reimbursement changes, and offering more advanced instruction. It's also offering fewer concurrent sessions and expanding their length to allow for more in-depth discussion. Attendees can choose from among five full-day pre-conference programs and 74 breakout sessions.
The institute kicks off Monday morning with a keynote address by John Naisbitt, author of High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning. Other general-session speakers are Steve Curd, chief operating officer of Healtheon/WebMD Corp., and Keith Harrell, a writer and management guru.
In the past year, the HFMA has been grappling with troubles of its own, reflective of the industry turmoil. Its membership rolls have shrunk 5% since May 1999, to 32,000, marking the first significant decline, Clarke says.
He attributes the drop to lower training budgets and more job-changing as the industry adjusted to the fiscal impact of the balanced-budget law. Clarke says the difficulty of tracking members as they change jobs has been a significant factor, especially among consultants, who constitute nearly a third of the membership roll.
The HFMA is also attempting to erase red ink incurred in its last fiscal year. It lost about $700,000 in 1999 on total revenue of about $15 million, in part because of the cost of a new compliance training program, Clarke says. He says the HFMA is on track to break even this year as a result of cost-cutting and fine-tuning its services. For example, it is offering more audio-teleconferences, which have been a hit, and fewer on-site workshops.
The HFMA spent much of the last year reviewing its strategic direction. Based on membership surveys, it decided to continue its focus as a personal membership organization rather than shift its emphasis to online education, which is already being provided by a variety of companies, Clarke says.
He says it was "very clear to us that as an organization we are not a technology company and we do not wish to become one.
"You'll find some organizations are plowing a lot of money and energy into providing services through technology," he adds. "I think one of the drawbacks is that people will continue to long for the personal interaction. We need to maintain the high-touch aspect of what we do."
However, the HFMA does plan to expand its online services to include immediate access to its database for new members, news summaries and links with online educational providers.