Lessons learned from Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO and president of MGMA.

Written by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE

(Image: Adobe Stock)

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
—commonly attributed to Peter Drucker, management consultant

If you paid a visit to your physician for a check-up within the last few years, you probably noticed a change in how the practice manages appointments, billing, and communication. The landscape for delivering healthcare is rapidly changing, and medical practices are realizing they need to quickly adapt if they are to survive. In years past, physician practices relied heavily on their specialty, sub-specialty, or other professional associations to keep them updated. Today, there are more resources than ever to keep them informed.

As a major voice and resource provider to medical professionals, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found itself maintaining its current member base but not attracting new members or customers as the landscape changed around it. At the time Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright was hired as CEO and president, MGMA was an established, well-recognized brand, but what worked 10 to 15 years ago was not working in 2013–2015. As Fischer-Wright said of MGMA, “We have a stellar brand, but we needed to make a transition in how we served the entire market.” The organization needed to pivot to adapt to the changing industry.

Ten years ago, a majority of medical practices had one or two physicians. According to a study from the American Medical Association (AMA), many young physicians today are joining larger practices. To remain relevant, many healthcare associations like MGMA must address the needs of the employer who is taking an even closer look at the return on investment of membership dues. As Fischer-Wright said, “If we stayed with an association model focused on the individual, we would not have a sustainable model. That’s why we transformed.”

Fischer-Wright believed to achieve growth and retain current members, the organization needed to build a strategy to engage larger practices. Although MGMA would continue to provide the education, tools, and resources for its current membership base, it needed to look at other revenue streams to remain relevant. Fischer-Wright explained, “We looked at what members needed, and some of the products we had been providing in the past no longer met the needs of medical group practices in the future. We needed to consider the needs of the marketplace.”

The new business model allowed MGMA to increase its reach beyond membership. By evaluating new ideas based on the strength of the business case, it became easier to say no to programs that did not align with its mission or could not produce a profit. The new business model helped the organization determine when to outsource activities, when to launch new products, and “when to kill your darlings.” MGMA was able to create new partnerships with vendors that could help fill a niche and provide a product or service to MGMA members and customers. Fischer-Wright said, “We shifted our approach to meeting the needs of the market by aggressively pursuing vendors and suppliers—two segments we would have chosen to ignore four years ago because we were focused exclusively on individual members who work within medical group practices.”

With a strong commitment to staying at the forefront of changes in how healthcare is managed and delivered, MGMA began to increase its role in helping medical practices prosper by focusing on collecting and disseminating data used to make decisions. The result was the creation of new products such as industry-leading data analysis, surveys, and reports. “When we pivoted our attention to new industries, we grew,” Fischer-Wright said. The changes taking place at MGMA resulted in a 30 percent growth in its reach. Although membership has remained stable, the organization’s customer base has grown to more than 100,000.

Fischer-Wright describes herself as having an abundance mindset. Rather than having a negative reaction to the challenges she faces, she believes that if a solution doesn’t exist, she can build it—or buy it.

Below are a few of the lessons learned from MGMA:

  1. Have an abundance mindset.
  2. Embrace change and develop a culture that is proactive, not reactive.
  3. To grow your organization, don’t limit your efforts to increasing membership. To achieve your mission, you may need to expand your reach and attract more customers.
  4. Grow your customer base through new partnerships and new audience segments.

You can read the full story of how Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright transformed MGMA in my new book, Pivot Point, which will be launched this weekend at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Chicago.


This article is an abbreviated excerpt from Sheri Jacobs’ book Pivot Point: Reshaping Your Business When It Matters Most (to be published August 18, 2018), which is now available for pre-order. ASAE member and quantity-purchase discounts are available.

Posted on August 16, 2018