The Time Has Come for Healthcare Associations to Rethink Their Mission

The time has come for healthcare associations to rethink their mission.The IRS defines an association as “a group of persons banded together for a specific purpose.” In our country, healthcare associations have been formed to represent the needs of their members. They have offered varied services including advocacy, learning, benchmarking and comparative performance reporting, etc. The delivery of these services and the numerous conferences that are held each year have indeed helped to build capabilities that have benefited residents, patients, employees and other stakeholders.

The value of these associations are being challenged as it is no longer sufficient to focus only on the needs of industry sector members as our healthcare market demands new levels of collaboration. As leaders of companies, we have little tolerance for members of our team who only represent their individual functional or business unit interests without sufficient regard and commitment to our company’s vision, mission and values. So, why would we expect that our legislative leaders would want to hear only about the individual interests represented by these associations? Would we be better served to engage with one another to create venues where legislators can listen and learn from collaborative proposals that address the needs of those our industry serves – people?

I recently attended a conference. I was struck by a presentation and panel discussion where a proposed policy for reimbursement was presented. I left with the impression that there was little attention placed on the need to think and act collaboratively with colleagues across the continuum of care in advance of bringing this to CMS. After all, our healthcare resources are limited and CMS does not have the ability to pick more funding off the tree in their office courtyard!

Think about an association in which you hold a membership. Of all the conferences you attended in the past three years, how many dialogues have modeled solution oriented engagement by physician and nursing leaders, hospital and senior living administrators, behavioral health leaders, home care executives, and rehabilitation and wellness thought leaders with a sprinkling of community leaders? Probably none. There are very few healthcare organizations in the US that are positioned to align this way naturally as most do not represent the continuum of care for segments of the population.

Whether you like the ACA or not is really irrelevant. No one can deny that the solutions to our country’s healthcare challenges lie in creating and deploying solutions that address the growing need to optimize wellness, while providing appropriate responses to health issues as they arise – and they will for an increasing number of people. I believe that healthcare associations can play a vital role in modeling a level of collaboration and creating conference that provide members with the opportunity to not just hear presentations about what they can do to ensure their voice is heard, but actually roll up their sleeves with colleagues from other healthcare industry sectors to actually experience collaboration in a learning setting.

For association members to experience this difference, there would need to be a radical cross fertilization of conference design, speaker and facilitator resources if not Board of Director mix.

Our industry must transform. Those associations that have supported members so well for many years must also step up and into transformation.