New MGMA Chief Embraces Change

The new president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association has made a career as a change agent in the health care sector. In an interview with Physician's Money Digest she discusses the major issues facing her industry.

At the age of 8, Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, MMM, FAAP, already knew what she wanted to do with her life.

“I was one of those people who decided as a child I wanted to be a doctor, primarily because I really admired my own pediatrician so much,” said Fischer-Wright, in a phone interview.

By the time she was at the other end of the stethoscope, the pediatrician had the same admiration for her young patients.

“There’s just an inherent wisdom to being a child,” she said.

Fischer-Wright said she loves the way children look at the world, focusing on positivity, curiosity, and the spirit of adventure.

Those are traits Fischer-Wright is herself embracing as she begins her tenure as president and chief executive officer of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the Colorado-based organization comprised of 33,000 practice administrators and executives and 18,000 health care organizations.

Those organizations are facing constant changes to regulations and business models, and a growing list of questions whose answers are murky at best.

“I think the days of security and safety and predictability are long gone,” Fischer-Wright, who started at MGMA late last month.

Fischer-Wright’s own career began much as her childhood self had predicted. She started her practice fresh out of residency.

As her own practice grew, she began consulting for other small practices.

“We were doing well and other people asked me to take a look at their practice,” she said.

Fischer-Wright eventually joined the Denver-based Rose Medical Group, becoming its president. Over her 13 years at the practice, the group grew from a 75-member IPA to an 840-doctor MSO/PHO.

Most recently, she was chief medical officer at St. Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster, CO. There, she was hired to be a “change agent,” transforming the hospital’s medical staff into a modern, Triple Aim-focused health care team.

Susan L. Turney, MD, MS, FACP,

FACMPE

, stepped down in September. Fischer-Wright

Fischer-Wright knew that position was, by its very nature, a time-limited job. As she looked for her next chapter, she began thinking about MGMA's president and CEO post, which became vacant when was very familiar with the group, having previously served as a consultant to MGMA. The more she thought about it, the more she liked.

“The thing is, this is really my dream position, and I actually make no secret about it,” she said. “I wanted a positive where I can help affect change in health care, and by that I mean a positive change.”

At MGMA, she will have plenty of opportunities to affect change. The current period of fluctuation in health care means she’ll have to keep tabs on a wide range of issues, from the so-called “Doc Fix” legislation, to ICD-10, to longer-term issues such as what the population health management and changing business models of health care.

Fischer-Wright sees that fluidity is an asset, not an obstacle.

“The thing I’ve always embraced in my career is that change brings opportunities,” she said.

In general, she said, practice managers are overburdened at the moment by regulation and requirements, a problem complicated by the lack of clarity and consistency with regard to what exactly the government and payers want from providers. She wants to work to streamline those processes, and find a way to more forward with leveraging data for population health management.

Fischer-Wright disagrees with the oft-heard notion that small medical practices are becoming an endangered species, soon to be replaced almost entirely by large practices and hospital-employed physicians.

“The demise of the American medical practice has been widely misrepresented,” she said.

However, she agrees that “business as usual” could be facing extinction.

“I don’t believe that we’re going to see medical practice as we know it go away,” she said. “I do believe that the model that we’re using probably does need to morph.”

Fischer-Wright said health care providers and managers need to be comfortable with change. She hears many people waxing nostalgic about “how things used to be.” Not her, though. That era was “pretty nice, but also long gone.” She said the best way to ensure a health care future that works for physicians, administrators, and patients alike, is to not just embrace change, but also to lead it.

“We don’t need evolution,” she said. “Evolution is slow and incremental. We need revolution. And that’s really the velocity of change.”