AMGA membership now stands at 390 medical groups in which some 117,000 physicians practice. This includes 23 groups with 4,500 doctors who have joined so far this year.
While many of the big-picture discussions in general sessions centered on the continuing evolution of accountable care organizations, in the smaller educational “breakout” sessions, speakers dealt with the nuts-and-bolts issues at the foundation of ACOs—such as integrating independent practices and cultures, and aligning both affiliated and employed physicians into a unit where everyone has their eyes on the same prize.
E-mails, texting, teleconferencing and webinars are helpful in putting these deals together, but speakers emphasized the need for folks to meet in the same place.
Perhaps this was an acknowledgement that AMGA membership tends to skew toward an older demographic. At last year's American Medical Association House of Delegates meeting, where a debate was held for the three men who were vying to be the next president-elect, the eventual winner, Dr. Peter Carmel, pledged to reach out to younger physicians by increasing the AMA's use of electronic communication. For those who feel large-scale meetings are the best way to communicate, “Our day is over,” said Carmel, a pediatric neurosurgeon from New Jersey.
This was not the message sent to people attending the AMGA breakout sessions.
In recalling the Jan. 1, 2008 integration of three Northern California medical groups that were already affiliated with Sutter Health—Camino Medical Group, Palo Alto Medical Clinic and Santa Cruz Medical Clinic—Dr. Don Wreden, president and CEO of the Sutter Medical Group, described the deal as a “15-pound merger” because of the weekly dinners held between the principals involved.
In addition to the dinners, there were also all kinds of electronic correspondence, but Wreden stressed that “there is power in face-to-face communication and getting people together.”
He noted another reason why such communication is necessary, especially during the rumormongering that goes on before a large business deal.
“Never underestimate the capacity of intelligent people to generate apocalyptic fantasies,” Wreden said.
Dr. Alan Kaplan, vice president and chief medical officer of Iowa Health System, Des Moines, discussed his organization's ongoing merger talks with other local groups, and said, “You can never over-communicate.”
Dr. Robert Altman, with the Gould Medical Group in Modesto, Calif., discussed his organization's expansion and explained how events such as dinners and wine tastings helped put people's minds at ease.
“People assumed something bad was happening,” Altman said. “The point was to get everyone together and hear the same message.”