A new AMA report says loss of members is accelerating, with membership now at 26% of all physicians and medical students, compared more than 40% in the mid-1990s.
Membership loss "has intensified in the past three years" and is estimated to have dropped 3.8% in this year alone, to a level of about 250,000 members, says the AMA's Strategic Membership Plan, released last week at the organization's interim meeting in Honolulu.
The report says membership losses have been greatest among practicing physicians--the only group that pays full dues of $420 a year--where the AMA currently has a 20% market share.
Market share is even lower among young physicians, who are key to the organization's future. Last year, the report says, only 17% of practicing physicians under age 40 were AMA members, despite generous dues discounts in their first two years of practice.
For the past 15 years, AMA membership has been declining at an average rate of 1.3% per year, says Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., and AMA board member and the chairman of an AMA task for that oversaw the membership report.
Wilson tells Modern Physician that the AMA still enjoys a great deal of clout in Washington, as demonstrated by its work with specialty societies to successfully head off a Medicare physician fee cut.
But "in terms of paying dues money to the AMA, it's the individual members of the AMA who do that," he says.
Last year, the AMA considered dropping individual membership and becoming an "organization of organizations," depending on state and specialty societies for income. But the AMA House of Delegates rejected that proposal in June.
The Strategic Plan, based on an exhaustive study of physician attitudes toward the organization, finds "physicians are not prepared to pay dues for a worthwhile cause," Wilson says. "They want value for their membership."
Wilson says finding new ways of adding value to AMA membership is unlikely, but creating the right package of membership benefits might be useful.
The report says the AMA has been trying new approaches in the past few years, such as gleaning members over the Internet, an approach that recruited 5% more members in 2003.
It adds that a new program recruiting physicians directly rather than through state societies, has seen some success, but meanwhile, recruitment through the state societies has "declined significantly."
In addition, the AMA has been offering discounted payment packages to boost membership, such as $300 memberships to sign up all 800 practicing physicians at Henry Ford Medical Group, which was announced in October.