April 7, 2022, 12:02 p.m. David Mitchell — Brian Edwards, M.B.A., had spent most of his career with health plans before joining the AAFP as vice president of membership in November. Edwards is responsible for leading the growth and retention of AAFP membership, including member support and engagement. He also leads the Academy’s chapter relations efforts and oversees the AAFP governance process.
Prior to joining the Academy, Edwards served nearly four years as director of customer experience at the Government Employee Health Association, which serves 2 million federal employees, military retirees and their families. He held a similar role during his nearly 13-year stint with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, which provides health coverage services to more than 1 million beneficiaries.
Edwards recently met with the AAFP’s constituent chapter executives in Chicago and will have his first chance to meet many Academy members in person April 28-30 during the AAFP Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Mo. AAFP News recently sat down with Edwards to discuss his role and his approach to helping members.
AAFP News: What drew you to the Academy?
Edwards: It was really two things. One is a passion for health care. I’ve been in health care for almost two decades. In that time, I’ve developed a passion for the industry. There’s a lot of complexity, but it’s also a fulfilling industry to be in and see its direct impact on society. Having a chance to be on the physician side of it, particularly family physicians and the role that they play in in health care, was attractive to me.
The other reason is member experience and the background and expertise I have in that area. It’s really about applying different methods and disciplines to optimize the experience of the members that we’re serving. That’s been a big part of my career journey and something that has always been a professional and personal passion of mine, so combining those two things and being able to serve the AAFP and the members of the Academy really presented a unique opportunity.
AAFP News: You had nearly 20 years in membership experience roles while working for health plans. How does your experience with meeting patient needs translate to meeting physicians’ needs?
Edwards: When you are serving in the role of meeting member needs, there are really four elements that are applicable in any industry:
This is a cyclical, ongoing, never-ending cycle, but those four things apply in any membership capacity, whether it’s serving patients directly or serving the family physicians who serve those patients. There is a strong correlation and parallel to how that works.
AAFP News: What is the value or advantage for members to take a more active role in the organization?
Edwards: The clear value in being engaged is having a voice. The more engaged you are in a membership organization like ours, the more you’re at the table to let your voice be heard, the more you allow your voice to shape the priorities and the things that that we’re doing on behalf of membership.
Beyond that, I think the more active and engaged you are, the more you truly can leverage what you have access to as a member. There are so many ways that we serve our members, but unless you are active and get involved in the various forums that we have available to engage, you don’t really see it all.
AAFP News: What should member organizations have learned about helping their members during the pandemic, and how has the Academy adapted to do things differently?
Edwards: The pandemic has forced membership organizations to be more adaptive and nimble. When the pandemic hit, it didn’t really matter what your roadmap of priorities were. Whatever organization you were in, COVID took center stage. Not only did that necessitate a need to shift priorities, it necessitated us being able to understand what the needs are, how the needs have shifted and to accommodate what those different needs are in a pandemic.
Certainly, for our members, the world changed in the way that patients access care and in a lot of other different ways. We particularly had to be more nimble and to be able to adapt from the standpoint of, “OK, this is the way that that we served our members two or three years ago, but those needs have changed, and we need to quickly pivot so that we can continue to be there for them.” You truly start to rely on and depend on your membership organization when there’s a crisis. We need to be accessible and meet needs in a way that’s meaningful. That’s put us in a better place as an organization to really connect with our members and meet them where they are.
AAFP News: You met with chapter executives recently. What have you learned from listening to members and/or those chapter executives about member needs?
Edwards: It boils down to a few different ways that I think members look to us as far as our core competencies, the things that they want out of their membership.
One, it’s being an advocate. Obviously, we advocate for our members and for the specialty in a lot of different ways, but that is something that is truly important. We have to keep our eye on the ball and make sure that we understand that voice and that we continue to advocate in the way that our members want to.
The second one is being a resource. When you think about career resource needs, practice needs, clinical needs, those continue to evolve. The fact that they rely on us, and they look to us to be that leader and reliable source of information to help support their needs, is something that we continue to hear.
The third is connecting with peers, being that vehicle that can connect them with peers. We have a variety of different ways that they can do that and leverage their membership for that purpose.
And then a fourth one is an emerging topic, especially when you think about the pandemic. Being a well-being resource is something that that we’re seeing as an emerging need. People have looked at family physicians to be their well-being resource. Certainly, when you think about all that family physicians have had to endure over the past couple of years, they also have well-being needs and we need to be able to accommodate those needs.
AAFP News: The upcoming Annual Leadership Conference will be your first chance to meet many members in person and the first chance for many members to gather together in a long time. Are you excited about that?
Edwards: Oh, for sure. As a member experience practitioner, having any opportunity to speak directly with members helps me to be connected and to be a resource. Whether it’s in person, virtual, or just listening to calls, any way I can engage is always a good thing. But to have the opportunity to see members and meet them in person, we’re all excited to have that in-person forum back in place.