Though some industry confabs are heavy on advocacy, the Healthcare Financial Management Association's annual meeting always has been grounded in educating members on the nuts and bolts of running hospitals and other healthcare organizations.
At the HFMA, you won't often find politicians stumping about their plans to reform the nation's healthcare system. Nor are you likely to find highly paid celebrities with little or nothing to say about healthcare. What you will find at the HFMA Annual National Institute, scheduled for June 16-20 in Seattle: more than 100 experts expounding on such pointed matters as revenue cycle management, managed-care contract negotiation and online patient billing.
To be sure, the HFMA lures its share of nonhealthcare professional keynoters offering their insights for the industry. This year's lineup includes futurist James Canton, trend-watcher Marvin Cetron and motivational speaker Annette Moser-Wellman.
But focusing on healthcare-specific issues has helped keep attendance near record levels at HFMA events, even since Sept. 11, 2001, according to HFMA leaders. The HFMA expects this year's program to match last year's record paid attendance of 1,617.
The HFMA also expects 246 exhibitors at this year's show, up from 231 last year. Exhibit manager Kristina Galloway, who is employed by Corcoran/Conferon Expositions in Chicago, says exhibit space sold out earlier this year than it did last. She says the event is becoming more popular with benefits and risk-management vendors. At many hospitals and health systems, Galloway says, "the (chief financial officer) is ultimately becoming the decisionmaker" on where dollars in those areas are spent.
"The whole idea of this conference is that it's focused on relevant information. We're trying to give practical solutions to real-world problems," says Phyllis Cowling, CFO of Baptist St. Anthony Health System in Amarillo, Texas, and incoming chairwoman of the HFMA, which represents 32,000 financial managers and consultants.
Cowling chose the theme of this year's conference, "Create the Future," which she says refers to "creativity we must utilize to solve many of today's challenges."
Conference sessions are divided into eight program tracks: financial management, topics for senior finance executives, legal and legislative affairs, leadership and professional development, technology and information management, patient financial services, managed care, and payment issues.
The HFMA is working to correct a perennial complaint common to healthcare professional conferences: that too many speakers are consultants. An effort has been under way to recruit more rank-and-file members to speak about their own hands-on operational experiences. To that end, speaker stipends were increased last year, and more generous reimbursements were added for providers, says Liz Propp, the HFMA's vice president of product management.
The effort appears to be paying off. The percentage of sessions with a provider on the panel has increased to 34% this year from 22% in 2000, Propp says. But even in a time of industry turmoil, it hasn't been easy to get providers to share their success stories with colleagues, she says.
Although public speaking is an obvious marketing opportunity for consultants, Propp says providers have less incentive to talk publicly about their work. "A lot of the time, providers aren't naturally on the speaking circuit," she says.
It also can be quite time-consuming, says Rick Annis, CFO of Catholic Healthcare Partners in Cincinnati, who says he's given dozens of talks at the HFMA dating to 1985, covering such topics as financial turnarounds, managed-care contracting, receivables management and capital financing. This year, he's lined up to speak at sessions on educating new board members and managing the revenue cycle.
Annis says he reschedules his personal life, including sacrificing some weekends, to prepare a presentation, typically spending upward of 100 hours on research, writing, slide preparation and consulting with co-presenters.
"If they paid me for this, I'd be retired," he quips.
Annis says he does it because he likes to help his profession, and he learns a lot in the process.