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  • Writer's picturePaul DeChant MD, MBA

The AMGA and the Pandemic

In my ongoing series of blog posts talking with healthcare leaders about the impact of the pandemic and how healthcare organizations are responding, I’m so pleased to share my discussion with Jerry Penso, MD, MBA, the President and CEO of the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

The AMGA was founded 71 years ago to support group practices and has evolved over the years to become a major source of support for the nation’s medical groups, providing medical group leaders a place to learn from each other as healthcare evolves.

In the past year the existential threat of the pandemic drove all providers to transform more comprehensively and rapidly than they previously thought possible. And AMGA has transformed along with their member medical groups.

First, I’d like to share Jerry’s high-level overview of how AMGA member groups transformed, then I’ll share our discussion about how AMGA has transformed.

Most medical groups saw a significant financial downturn in the early stages of the pandemic, more so for those groups heavily reliant on fee for service (FFS) billings. Many had to make tough decisions about furloughing or laying off staff and even providers, despite moving nearly all outpatient visits to virtual care, and staffing up inpatient coverage in hospitals that were overwhelmed.

The groups that suffered the least financial impact were those that had already made a significant move to value-based care (VBC) – where the group receives regular payments to care for patients and takes on the risk of managing that care effectively. Most groups have some combination of FFS and VBC but vary in the percentage of each.

The crisis presented health systems and their affiliated medical groups the opportunity to become more integrated, redesigning care delivery to ensure patients receive the best care, in the best location, with coordinated follow-up, what Jerry describes as “true integration,” going deeper than simply forming specialty service lines.

We discussed how the landscape is changing, with those remaining independent groups making decisions to:

  • remain independent,

  • join a local healthcare system,

  • join a national system such as Optum, or

  • engage in operational and/or ownership arrangements with private equity or health plans.

All of these are leading to disruption to traditional practice models, along with organizations offering other practice model options such as VillageMD, Aledade, and One Medical. Many single specialty groups find they now need support from these organizations.

Just as member organizations are transforming, Jerry pointed out that AMGA is undergoing significant change as well.

Many member organizations turned to AMGA for help, primarily wanting to connect with similar medical groups to learn from each other how best to navigate these uncertain times. “It’s true what they say about medical groups – when you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.”, Jerry told me. “No two groups are identical.” They do share many common challenges, and interest groups can come together around certain subjects, providing unique value to the member organizations.

Like most of us, AMGA has learned how to go virtual.

It hosts two large conferences a year, the Annual Conference and the Institute for Quality Leadership (IQL). I’m happy to say that I’ve found many of my best leadership ideas at these conferences.

The Annual Conference had to be canceled on short notice last spring, but AMGA quickly converted some content into virtual sessions. The IQL was hosted as a virtual event in the fall and was a rousing success.

How did AMGA achieve such success in a time of uncertainty? Jerry brought his team together to redesign the conference, and they decided to offer an unlimited group registration rate to each of their members. It turned into a win-win, as the number of participants tripled, groups found it to be more affordable while allowing more of their team members to participate, and it worked for AMGA financially as well.

The AMGA team is obviously doing something right. Along with this change, and enhancing other services they provide, AMGA’s net promoter score with their members increased from 50 to 73, an accomplishment that any organization would be proud of!

What will AMGA conferences look like in the future? Jerry sees them morphing into a combination of in-person and virtual. People hunger to get back together in person and realize not everyone can travel to every event, so virtual offerings allow broader participation.

As we ended our conversation, it was clear to me that, despite the disruptions wrought by the pandemic and other societal struggles, AMGA will continue to provide a vital service to American healthcare far into the future.

If you’d like to learn more about AMGA, you can find their website here, and reach out to member services here.

As always, I’m happy to connect with you about the value of the AMGA. You can reach me here.


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