The best part of MGMA 2012: You!

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Deb Beaulieu

Deb Beaulieu

I've been to several Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) annual conferences, but this year's meeting in San Antonio, Texas, has probably been my favorite.

But it wasn't the glorious Riverwalk or the unbelievably good fresh salsa at Casa Rio or even the top-notch speakers who led the presentations that really impressed me. It was the attendees--practice administrators, managers and physicians like you. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of FiercePracticeManagement subscribers.

What was special about this year's attendees is that they truly embraced the spirit of helping one another by sharing ideas. Some of the sessions I attended, such as Tuesday's discussion about how medical practices can stay independent, were intended to be interactive. Planning it that way was a bit of a risk on MGMA's part, since a lot of folks show up in these kinds of settings expecting to be spoon-fed information, but it worked. Moreover, as people from all over the country stood up and shared their ideas and insights with total strangers, I almost saw lightbulbs flicker over people's heads. Their faces said, "Wow, thank you! I never thought of that, but I am going to give that idea a try."

I witnessed this kind of magic in more traditional sessions, too. In one meeting about achieving return on investment from practice technology, for example, an administrator sitting next to me discussed a new service that was working well for her practice. At the end of the session, almost a dozen other people flocked to our table to get more information.

Similarily, at the so-called conclusion of a presentation about patient collections by Elizabeth Woodcock, audience members kept exchanging information for at least a half hour.

While it may be true that the healthcare industry is teeming with uncertainties and unknowns at the moment, I'm convinced that answers do exist. But there is no one right answer for everybody. Medical practices are extremely diverse in size, specialty, region, population type, culture and more, but if you look hard enough, you'll find other organizations with very similar needs and challenges as yours.

And the really good news is that you don't have to get on an airplane and miss half a week of work to find them. As Jamie Verkamp, managing partner with (e)Merge Consulting advised her audience in Tuesday afternoon's session about finding and fixing management derailers in your practice, most of us have treasure troves of invaluable information right at our desktop computers or even in the palm of our hand. By show of hands, just a fraction of the people in that room said they even knew how to use Twitter, and Verkamp encouraged them to try it. "There's so much more to it than what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch," she said. "There's invaluable information that you can take and share with your managers to then share with their staff." She also recommended people dig deeper into LinkedIn, especially the groups, such as the MGMA's, to continue to problem-solve with their peers virtually.

This camaraderie in action couldn't illustrate more beautifully some of the points made by Patrick Lencioni, consultant of the Table Group firm in Lafayette, Calif., in Tuesday's opening general session. As the titles of Lencioni's books reflect, he believes that in business, teamwork is everything. But for a team to work, you've got to have trust, and more specifically, a vulnerability that enables members to admit when they don't have the answers or they need help. Sure, it's easier to admit to a room full of strangers, without your staff watching, that you struggle with certain issues in your practice. It may seem counterintuitive, according to Lencioni, but to get your employees to really respect you and truly want to work hard for you, you've got to be just as open with them.

As a result, you'll not only deepen the strength and dedication of your team, but you'll have the opportunity to learn from one another and come up with some outstanding ideas. Of course, not every solution will work, but you can always change it back. The idea is to keep the improvement process moving perpetually.

Finally, as someone whose natural tendency is to be a lot more social moth than butterfly, I had my own epiphany this week about networking, a term I usually associate with sweaty palms and awkward small talk. "Networking" isn't just about collecting business cards or amassing Twitter followers. It's about listening. It's about hearing what's going on with the people that are around you and being open to sharing relevant questions and ideas.

It truly was a privilege to meet some of you in person and to hear your challenges, as well as what inspires you in your jobs. I promise I'll take this information and put it to good use in finding and sharing the kinds of stories that will be of the most help to you in running your practices. I look forward to seeing you again next year. In the meantime, catch you on Twitter! - Deb (@PracticeMgt)