Meeting Recaps

Flipping People's Peanuts at MRSi 2017: Everything is changing, and it's just the beginning

By Griffin Jones
 

This is my third annual recap of the Midwest Reproductive Symposium international (MRSi) , so I'm going to have a little fun with this one. I don't feel like writing another list and I think there's a more valuable point I can convey to you. As of right now, MRSi holds the title for my favorite meeting in the field of reproductive health and I want to use it nudge other meetings to follow suit. I should be a fair judge, I go to almost all of them.

It certainly doesn't hurt that it's on Lake Michigan in Chicago in the summer time, and Dr. Angeline Beltsos knows how to incorporate an interesting theme. Those are pluses, but not enough to make a meeting my favorite. It's big enough to have a diverse range of programming and small enough to be very collaborative and social. People get to know each other and build meaningful relationships. I truly understand how important that is for the field. Louise Brown, the first baby ever born from IVF was a guest at the conference. As Louise put it,

"My parents were willing to advance science and try something that had never been done before because they felt their doctors were truly there for them."

These reasons not withstanding, do you know what I really think MRSi holds over our other meetings in the field? It's the most forward-looking.

Other meetings sometimes do a great job of exploring the latest science and the future prospects for assisted reproductive technologies, but they often stop there. I believe that's a mistake. Compared to some of the technologies that are being developed both inside and outside of our field right now, PGS looks about as complicated as tying a shoe.

A Change Gonna Come. Oh wait. It already did.

Several presentations detailed the incredible growth of technology across multiple facets of society, not just ART. My own talk was titled The Biggest Change Ever in Human Communication: the Tech Revolution and Our Patients. The title isn't hyperbole. I made the case that we are living through a bigger shift than that of the printing press, perhaps even greater than the written word itself. If you would like the slides from my presentation, I will be happy to e-mail them to you. Here's the punchline: the supercomputer in every one's hand, that we call a smartphone, has changed dating, parenting, conversation, and commerce, for us and our patients. We have hardly begun to adapt our operations accordingly. And this is only the beginning.

Bob Huff, Chief Information Officer of RMA of Texas, shared with us technology that is changing the way generalists refer patients, and even the way patients are diagnosed. Scientists have just created functioning mouse embryos through 3D printing

My co-speaker, Hannah Johnson, Operations Director of Vios Fertility, and I, had the pleasure to speak to the mental health professionals group as well as the practice administrators' Business Minds group. We desperately need more of this inter-disciplinary kind of discussion because entire industries are being radically and forcibly changed. You'll forgive me for not using the popular buzzword, "disrupted". I prefer to put it more bluntly. Large institutions and established companies are losing double digit market share or going out of business in periods of 12-36 months. How does that sound?

"We could be looking at widespread clinic closures within the next 5-10 years."--Hannah johnson

I don't want that for this field. I started my career in radio advertising. I watched wealthy and powerful stakeholders go bankrupt because they were comfortable or because they weren't willing to invest time, money, and energy to adapt. As Dr. Francisco Arredondo from RMA of Texas says, "we produce one new fertility specialist per 10 million people per year". A need of such titanic portions is one that is begging for more technological disruption.

how can we learn if every effort is required to produce a particular result?

Broad social and technological change isn't a frame of mind that we usually allow ourselves to explore at most of our regional meetings throughout the year, or even at ASRM. It's a bit more welcome at MRS to question the status quo, and test new platforms and processes, without the scrutiny of the exact result that any particular effort might produce at the given moment. Elizabeth Carr, the first baby born from IVF in the United States, is now a marketing data consultant who also spoke at the conference. "I wouldn't be standing before you today if my parents and their doctors weren't willing to try something that had never been done before."

Virtually every area of medicine and practice management is ready to be disrupted by technology. We can wait for pain, or we can put in the effort and patience required to adapt to these changes. MRSi is the first meeting in our field where we're starting to think and talk in these terms. I hope it serves as an example for the others.

 

Start With Why: Association of Reproductive Managers (ARM) Meeting Recap 2017

By Griffin Jones

We didn't plan it this way...really. Yet still, there was a theme.

The Association for Reproductive Managers (ARM) is the practice managers' professional group within the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). As a group, we meet in person twice per year: at ASRM in the fall, and at the ARM Annual Meeting in the spring. We just wrapped up our 2017 meeting on April 28 at the Hotel Chicago (guess which city).

 We do have cool graphic art parodies though...

We do have cool graphic art parodies though...

Unlike the ASRM Scientific Congress and Expo, ARM doesn't reach for a semi-relevant motif to title its meeting. There's no "Holding on to Sturdy Practice Management Systems in the Windy City" across the cover page of the ARM program. Yet, in 2017, there was a common theme; I noticed it within the first two talks and it continued for the duration of the meeting.

Start With Why

There is no shortage of tasks to be completed in an REI practice. Managing the system of operations that bring them all together can be daunting. Our speakers helped hone our focus, by prioritizing what needs to be done with the reason(s) why.

  1. What to do with all those frozen embryos?
    Do race, religion, and age predict if patients will abandon their cryopreserved embryos? Apparently not, shows data from Embryo Donation International (EDI). Dr. Craig Sweet, MD, shares data that teaches us not to assume why people abandon their stored embryos, with factors including the number of embryos one has in storage and the number of children one has at home. "People don't donate to your embryo donation program because they don't want to see their child at the mall, and they don't want their children marrying their children," Sweet says of reasons why many patients prefer a geographically broad embryo donation program.
     
  2. The Role of an ART Attorney
    I say it so frequently, it could be my catchphrase. "I'm not an attorney. Talk to an attorney." Heather Ross, JD, is. Ross explains the variances of reproductive health law the clearly demonstrate why we would want to consult someone who specializes at this intersection of ethics, law, and medicine.
     
  3. What Our Patients Expect When They're Not Expecting
    "Satisfaction equals performance minus expectation", says Lisa Duran, CEO of patient experience consulting firm, Reconceived. Duran and Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, break down patient expectations from across the United States via hundreds of respondents from a custom RESOLVE survey. "Be prepared," Collura says. "The #1 expectation for physician communication is to read the patient's chart before they arrive." Our patients' expectations, not our own assumptions, should determine our operational processes. "We can't keep thinking that high ceilings, and margaritas and yoga equal exceptional customer service" Duran adds.
     
  4. How to Use Your Staff to Attract and Retain Patients
    Sara Mooney, Director of Administration at Seattle Reproductive Medicine (SRM), traced practice values back to the most fundamental principle of patient services. "Patients are the center of our work.  Our role is to support patients in pursuing their dreams". I had the privilege of co-presenting with Mooney, courtesy of professional networking through ARM. Together, we we demonstrated how, in the Digital Age, disengaged staff are a liability to the practice, while engaged staff can be the most powerful source of word-of-mouth referrals. "There is no separating your practice's marketing image from the culture inside the practice," was my $.02.
     
  5. The Embryology Lab and Beyond: Risk Management, Mitigation, and Staff
    Benjamin R. Emery of the University of Utah explained how the lab director and their staff come into play in mitigating risk for the practice.
     
  6. Patient Services Flow: The Financial Counselor/Front Desk Partnership
    Angela McCall and Beth Hume of SRM threw a dangerous axiom to the wind, "because this is the way we've always done it." McCall and Hume talked about barriers to collaboration between front desk staff and financial counselors while implementing new processes at the practice. "We had to get staff buy-in, and really explain why we believed that this was ultimately for the best. And it was."

Why I came back after last year's meeting

Starting with why makes it easy to justify being a member of ARM, attending its meetings, and wanting to see the group grow. Current ARM chairman, Brad Senstra, cordially invited other practice owners and administrators to attend ARM programming in the future. I would take him up on it. The content of the presentations are reason enough to the annual meeting (obviously, I was a speaker). Moreover, the relationships you  build with dozens of other people who have faced similar challenges to those in your practice are invaluable. Being able to make a few phone calls to your trusted friends over the course of the year is the reason why being a member of ARM is so important.