Medical associations at the local, state, and national level are struggling to be relevant. For example, the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest association of physicians and medical students, has a membership of less than 220,000 people.
By and large, medical associations offer advocacy, education, and networks, usually organizing a national meeting that is intended to generate substantial revenue. Like any business, however, medical societies have to adapt to the times and their overly bureaucratic, top-heavy structure makes it hard to pivot.
Members are pushing back citing some valid concerns:
1. Education can be provided much more cheaply and more conveniently using the Internet and online learning management systems.
2. Face-to-face networking at meetings helps to maintain friendships, but at what cost given the cornucopia of ways to connect using social media?
3. Despite oft quoted successes in the policy arena, a lot of docs simply don't think their organization represents their interests and are in bed with other vested interests.
4. Members are questioning why associations need to own expensive real estate in Chicago, Washington DC, or some other high-priced location.
5. They are pushing back against salaries of executive directors when members are struggling to maintain their margins.
6. Despite extremely complex committees, task forces, and boards requiring costly staff time, relatively little of substance seems to get done.
7. Costs and dues continue to escalate at an unsustainable rate, and, like Washington, once something is established it is almost impossible to eliminate it.
8. The meetings are frequently disappointing and seem to cater to the whims of the corporate sponsors who want face time with attendees.
9. Medical associations are having a hard time with brand equity and delivering a consistent message, given that they have to represent the disparate interests of docs who work in many different practice situations.
10. Some feel the associations are driven by academics who are insensitive or ignore the needs of the community-based practitioners.
Some docs are saying "take this white coat and shove it". Others are not quite going that far, but instead, choosing to bowl alone.
I once had a plastic surgery friend who quipped that you can tell you are getting old when you go to medical conferences and you see the same old slides and old friends with new wives. I've noticed and, it seems, so have a lot of others.
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org