Sending a key staff member – whether a biller or a practice manager – to a medical practice management or billing conference can seem like an expensive perk. It can be an especially difficult decision for a small practice.  But there’s just no substitute for the learning and connections that are possible by spending a few days at a high quality conference.

Case in point.  I just returned from the HBMA conference, where I presented to about 200 motivated and engaged billing service managers and owners.  Attending as a speaker gave me the opportunity to listen in on some of the other speakers, and to hear attendee feedback.  Now, the HBMA is a vibrant organization that provides plenty of valuable information throughout the year through its list-serv, payer-focused groups, and other resources.  But the conference adds another layer of value — and it does it very efficiently.

For example, I sat in on a presentation about changes in bundled payments and other coding and payment issues — including the four new modifiers the CMS recently announced.  Everyone in the room valued an update on this (so far, still confusing) new information from the CMS.  When you’re working by yourself in your practice office, juggling all the normal day-to-day tasks and priorities, it can be all-but-impossible to get a clear answer on some of these kinds of issues.  Programs like PQRS and PCMH are very difficult to parse through alone; it’s hard to feel confident that you’re on the right track, and the consequences are expensive.  Being taught by an expert at a conference can be a lot cheaper than going it alone and getting it wrong.

Of course, not all conferences are created equal.  Be picky.  Choose events by respected organizations, with well-regarded speakers.  Review the agenda to be sure it hits the topics most relevant to your practice.  And don’t forget to consider the value of the audience: conference networking creates connections that can help your managers get help problem-solving long after the conference ends.  So think about who will be there when selecting.  It might cost a bit more to send a team member to a higher end conference, especially if it’s a little further away.  But a few hundred extra dollars can make all the difference if it leads to better education and more useful connections.

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