AMA Software: Making Docs Love Medicine Again

The American Medical Association has invested between $10 and $15 million in a practice-management software program that it hopes will put the love back in practicing medicine. But so far the program has not developed guidelines to help physicians cope with ICD-10, the mandatory switch to knew billing codes that the AMA's incoming president concedes will be "a traumatic experience."

Can a software program make physicians happy in their practice again?

Ask the American Medical Association’s top executives what the organization hopes to gain by investing between $10 and $15 million in a practice-management software program that will initially be offered free to members and you’ll get a multi-faceted answer.

The first is that the program known as AMA Steps Forward, is a set of educational modules to help physicians run their practices better—planning patients’ visits, selecting and buying electronic health records systems, and building a team culture in their staff members.

The loftier goal, “To restore joy in practice,” said incoming AMA president Steven Stack, MD.

He introduced the executive in charge of the program, Michael Tutty, PhD, AMA group vice president for physician satisfaction and practice sustainability, as “Our vice president for physician joy.”

The products, which the AMA hopes will ultimately lead to partnering arrangements with various specialty societies, and the creation of tailor-made versions for medical specialists, were unveiled at news conferences today at the AMA’s House of Delegates meeting in Chicago, IL. They have been beta tested on 2,000 physicians, the AMA said.

Eventually they could be income-producing, through an add-on fee for AMA membership, though the executives today stressed that is not their main goal.

AMA’s CEO James Madara, MD, said “Physicians want time returned to them so they can interact with their patients,” and that the Steps Forward program could help them do that.

So far that does not include help with the looming deadline for converting their billing codes to a new set of standards known as ICD-10, an international code that is far more specific than the codes currently used.

Madara said such a teaching module could be added. Stack agreed, adding that the ICD-10 switch is a major concern for physicians, particularly those in small or solo practices. “It is a big deal—its’ going to be a traumatic experience,” he said of the Oct. 1 changeover deadline.

“We will help them navigate it,” he promised.

Madara said he hoped the new software program would be popular, and help the AMA in its quest for new members. The AMA membership has been picking up for the past several years, a spokesman said, with more than 200 physicians joining over the past year.

Attracting still more is complex, said Madara, his thoughts turning to the teachings of James Q. Wilson, the noted social scientist partly credited for the “broken windows” theory of urban renewal. (His idea that the appearance of having intact buildings boosted neighborhood morale led to New York City using cozy-looking depictions of curtained windows with vases of flowers on the sill in bombed-out looking parts of the Bronx).

Wilson taught that there are 3 reasons people join voluntary organizations. Some respond to monetary incentives, some to gaining social status and camaraderie, and some to purposive incentives, Madara said.

“The AMA is a chimeric group—we’ve got all 3,” he said, and the hope is that offering the new software will meet all or at least some of those needs. The software can be viewed at www.STEPSforward.org.