Q&A with MGMA CEO Susan Turney, MD

With one year under her belt as president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Susan Turney, MD, is looking ahead to the 22,500-member association’s annual conference Oct. 21-24 in San Antonio. Turney talked with PhysBizTech's sister publication Healthcare IT News about the past year at MGMA and the IT and financial challenges medical groups across the country face as they work to achieve meaningful use, prepare for new payment models, convert to ICD-10 and transform their practices.

[See also: MGMA urges HHS to take immediate action on 5010-related payment delays]

As you prepare for the annual conference, what is top of mind for you?

If you stay at the real high level, it’s all about changing the model and the payment of care. How do you accomplish that? Certainly the government has been helping to evolve different models through their demonstration projects. But the private sector has been in this as well. Practices talk about this and think about it every day. They want to make sure that they’re doing the right care, that it’s cost-effective. They have to think about ways to re-invent themselves to make sure they can do the same or more for less.

What will be at the top of your agenda for next year?

Listening very carefully and trying to figure out what our practices are doing and how we can best help them understand, prepare and implement -- and actually address and digest all that information that’s out there. It’s a tough task, but I believe if we can help them, they will be able to achieve success.

How important is health information technology to your membership?

Our members take their technology needs very seriously. They know that they need technology both on the practice and on the administrative side as well as on the clinical side, and they have to marry the two to make sure they’re really getting the best value in order to give the best value in the way care is being delivered. Certainly more and more practices are adopting EHR technology. We have a diverse group of members, so they’re at every stage of implementation. What the practices want to do is make sure they’re doing this right for the patient. They want the information at the desktop, at their fingertips so that the practitioners can really manage the patient outcome at the time of service.

[See also: MGMA survey finds smaller practices ahead in administrator compensation rates]

What about the business side of the practice?

The other side of it is how can you leverage technology to improve all the administrative hassles that practices are dealing with. How can we standardize operating rules? How can we make sure that we’re collecting and benchmarking similar information? How can we make sure the vendors we’re working with are really getting us what we need, and they’re certified and we’re certified to produce the data that will really help to reinvent the organization?

When you think about things like claims submission and patient eligibility, remittance information advice, all the things around the revenue cycle and the billing cycle and electronic funds transfer that are really, really important for the financial health of the organization, it is something that practices are investing a fair amount of time in and wanting to do it right – building it the right way so they can get what they need at the end of the day.

So, they’re operating on two parallel tracks, trying to make sure they have the software and the financial ability to invest in what they need to implement the most effective technology system that really supports both the business and the practice.

What was your biggest challenge over the past year?

I joined the association a year ago, and it was a time of huge industry transformation as well as transformation within the organization. The boards had decided to merge the organizations – MGMA and ACMPE (American College of Medical Practice Executives). So I came in at a great time to really think about what the organization needed to look like going forward and how we could best serve our members in this overwhelming time of change. Our practices have so much on their plate. They’re really trying to do the right thing. They’re looking to provide the best quality care that they can and best serve their patients, and help the physicians do that. They’re dealing with rules and regulations and legislation and all the technology demands that are being placed on the practice. Then, there is all the uncertainty around the payment – not just the government, but the private sector and the business community as well. It’s a huge time of change, great for the organization, great for healthcare, and I’m looking forward to having an impact on all our members.

What is your proudest achievement over the past year?

The thing for me is it always gets back to the patient. When I think about the experiences I had in both clinical practices as well as serving as a professional practice administrator, I bring a lot to the table to the organization, but I also think that it helps me to keep us focused on what matters. We hear a lot from our members. I’m out. I’m feet on the street. I’ve been to many states. I’ve spoken to many organizations. We listen very carefully because we have 13,600 groups as members, and there’s a pulse out there. We’re listening very carefully and trying to take that feedback and respond in a way that we can impact on what they do every day, which is to serve the patient.

Any surprises?

There are always surprises when you’re new to an organization. The biggest thing to me is – even though I’ve been a practicing physician and I’ve been working on the business side of medicine, I’ve been in the association world now about eight years. Every day, it’s a shock to see how much practices have to deal with. Just when you think they can’t take anymore, they get thrown another curveball.

How will the outcome of the presidential election – either way – affect MGMA?

The bottom line is we are a grassroots organization, and we are very strong in advocacy. But we don’t take positions on presidential candidates or platforms at this stage. It’s just not policy. It’s campaign and rhetoric. It’s hard for us to predict the true impact that any of this will have on our membership until we have something that we can react to. [See also: MGMA research identifies hallmarks of ‘better-performing’ practices]

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