The theme of the 75th annual Medical Group Management Association conference held last month in San Antonio was "Technology, Leadership and Caring," but the spiritual emphasis of the show, in the wake of a national tragedy, was on caring.
Thus it was apt that poet David Whyte delivered one of the keynote speeches on "Courage and Conversation: Inviting the Soul to Work."
Whyte inspired many in an audience of more than 1,000 conferees and moved several to tears. More than 250 lined up afterward to buy autographed copies of his latest book, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.
About 5,200 MGMA members and vendors attended the conference this year, down 300 from last year due to the terrorist attacks, according to MGMA President and CEO William Jessee, M.D. Jessee says the theme of the show was chosen well before the terrorist assault, but "one thing everyone has done since Sept. 11 has been more reflective."
William Aeschliman, M.D., of the 30-physician Parkview Medical Group in Fort Wayne, Ind., stood among the book seekers after Whyte's speech. Aeschliman says he overcame his initial skepticism about "what the heck a poet was going to tell me about business."
"It was about conversation and having the bravery to open up," says Aeschliman, a family practitioner.
Whyte says, "With the events in September, we've all come, consciously and unconsciously, to an appreciation of the hidden aspects of work." Poetry "is always used by human beings whenever they are on vulnerable thresholds. Poetry speaks to the intangibles people confront every day but just don't have the language to express."
Whyte, based in Seattle, told the healthcare leaders to not fear self-exposure.
"You find that a lot of poetry is an invitation to a kind of vulnerable, attentive state where you put yourself on the frontier of your life and you're willing to hazard yourself. I think, in an organization, that when people realize that someone in leadership is actually risking themselves, they will risk themselves, too."
Whyte invited the physician leaders and group practice managers to conduct what he describes as a series of open-hearted conversations-with the unknown future of their organizations, different parts of their organizations, their colleagues, their patients and their own hearts and minds.
Futurist and fellow keynote speaker Leland Kaiser, president of Kaiser Associates in Brighton, Colo., added that "spirituality is good business, and good business is spiritual." He says consumer-driven medicine of the future will be designed around the patient's "experience" as much as their treatment and will include high-touch medicine as well as high tech.
"The greatest mistake in medicine is to assume that your patient is his or her body," he says.
Meanwhile, in the exhibit area, vendors of information technology dominated booth space.
The twin dams of high cost and buyer skepticism still stand, blocking wide adoption of electronic medical records systems. But adoption is coming, according to conferees and EMR vendors, who reported steady, though unspectacular, sales growth.
The annual MGMA member survey, released at the conference, reported 21.6% of responding healthcare organizations out of 593 organizations surveyed have implemented an EMR system. Another 67.9% of respondents said they were considering it.
"We may be approaching a tipping point in how practices are approaching an electronic medical record," says Jessee.
Tom Skelton, CEO of Medic Computer Systems of Raleigh, N.C., was less bullish.
Skelton says he accepts market watcher forecasts of EMR adoption rates of 22% to 35% in the next five years.
HIPAA, with its compliance deadline for privacy rules still two years off and its security rules as yet unreleased, remains a latent force in the EMR market, he says.
"I don't see a dam breaking, not yet," Skelton says.
"There is a faith in loving fiercely
the work that is rightfully yours.
There is a faith in loving fiercely
the life that is rightfully yours.
There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way."
From "The Truelove," recited and adapted by David Whyte at the MGMA conference, from "The House of Belonging," Copyright 1997 Many Rivers Press