From the President

We're Taking the AAFP to the Next Level to Serve You Better

November 02, 2010 05:25 pm Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A.

Academy leaders are always on the lookout for ways to improve the AAFP so it can better serve you and your patients. But recently, we decided it's time to do something more than search for improvements ourselves. It's time to bring in a consultant to take a fresh look at the AAFP from the outside in, from top to bottom, to find new and improved ways to function -- ways that those of us on the inside may overlook.

[Roland Goertz, M.D., MBA, FAAFP]

AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A.

To get that fresh perspective, we've hired the global consulting firm Accenture( to perform a comprehensive organizational effectiveness review of the AAFP. We've asked Accenture to recommend ways to maximize the efficiency of the Academy's structure and operations, to suggest new and innovative revenue streams, and to enhance the effectiveness of the Academy's communications with members.

As you read this, Accenture is delving into everything that is our Academy, from our big-picture strategic objectives to the grittiest details of how we operate day to day. They're getting input from all of the AAFP's key stakeholder groups, including members, constituent chapter leaders and their staff members, and AAFP leaders and staff. They're reaching out to other family medicine organizations, as well.

Accenture has a wealth of experience with for-profit as well as nonprofit organizations, so we'll be compared with both types. I'm sure Accenture's recommendations will include ideas for improvement that we never would have imagined ourselves.

Why Now?

Why is the time ripe for such an assessment now? For one thing, this type of review is something that consistently successful organizations do on a regular basis. Since our last assessment was in the 1990s, we're due for one. (By the way, our last assessment focused on association management practices with no comparison to for-profits, so the Accenture assessment is much broader.)

I also want to make it clear that the AAFP is not an organization in crisis. Instead, the Academy is working hard to be a far-sighted, visionary organization that sees the need to improve to succeed in an environment that has changed significantly and that will continue to change.

For example, mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical industry, coupled with new rules regarding pharma funding for associations, have caused the AAFP's topline revenues to drop during the past few years, and we expect this trend to continue. Yet members tell us we should keep up many of our activities, especially our advocacy for payment reform. But these activities require revenue to support them.

The Academy's Consumer Alliance Program is one step we've taken to counter the drop in pharma revenue, but we want to find other innovative revenue streams, as well as operational efficiencies that save money, so we can keep doing our most important work -- and so we can keep pressure off member dues, our other key revenue source.

Another catalyst for action is the small dip in members' overall satisfaction with the Academy that was revealed on the most recent member satisfaction survey. We take this decline very seriously and want to maximize the value of your Academy membership.

The advent of new communications methods is another force behind our decision for the assessment. Just think of the changes we've seen; a few years ago, the phrase social media wasn't in anyone's lexicon! We need to make sure that we communicate with you the way you want us to and that we frame our messages in a way that makes you want to read them.

In a sense, what the AAFP is doing is similar to what you might be doing in your own practice. Faced with a changing practice environment, you're probably assessing your internal operations to figure out how to become a patient-centered medical home. Our respective assessments are hard work, but they both have the same worthwhile goals: helping us improve our lives as family physicians and better serve our patients.

I'm excited that the AAFP's assessment is taking place while I'm president because I'm a strong believer in being far-sighted and asking for help when you need it. Years ago, I saw firsthand what happens when an organization doesn't reach out for the help it needs. I began practicing family medicine in a small Texas community with a 30-bed hospital right after Medicare changed to the diagnosis-related group, or DRG, payment method. Our little hospital should have sought help to learn how to cope with DRGs, but it didn't. Eighteen months later, it closed.

I also believe in the benefits of cross-fertilization between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, especially when it comes to internal operations -- indeed, that's why I got my master's degree in business administration a few years ago. I'm looking forward to the recommended plan of action that Accenture sets on our table.

The Board expects Accenture to present its recommendations early next year -- and then the real fun begins, as we decide which ones to implement and when. Some recommendations may be implemented quickly, but others may take up to two years to bring online. We'll keep you apprised as the process unfolds.

On the Right Road

I'd like to close by sharing a couple of observations with you, one from an American president and the other from an entertainer who's very funny but also very astute.

"Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him," Dwight D. Eisenhower once said. I hope you're proud to belong to a visionary organization that isn't huddled on the tracks, dreading the roar of the future overhead.

Finally, comedian Lily Tomlin once observed, "The road to success is always under construction." I'm sure this organizational assessment will help the Academy of the future remain foursquare on that road.