Leaders in medical imaging set their sights on Orlando for annual meeting

By Chuck Holt

Few cities in America conjure images of family fun in the sun quite like Orlando, Fla. And from July 22-25, attendees of the Association for Medical Imaging Management (AHRA) 2018 Annual Meeting & Exposition will have their chance to create lasting memories in the city Walt Disney World built.

AHRA is the professional organization for leaders of radiology departments in hospitals, freestanding imaging centers, and group practices. Formed in 1973, AHRA has grown to more than 5,500 members from all over the country. About 1,200 members, guests, and vendors are expected at this year’s annual meeting, which in past years has drawn attendees from as far away as Australia and Spain, says incoming AHRA President Bill Algee.

“Typically, we see radiology directors or radiology administrators. Also, frontline staff who are in development for leadership; they could be lead techs, coordinators, and other people who are on the track to become leaders,” he says.

Unlike many conferences, AHRA annual meetings typically do not have a catchy marketing theme “because we offer such a wide variety of topics,” Algee says. “There are at least 80 different workshops you can attend over the four days,” he says. “The topics are all over the map, too: There’s patient satisfaction, artificial intelligence, the [Merit-based Incentive Payment System], the [Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015], breast screening with ultrasound, and, of course, how to be a better leader.”

Meeting Tracks

Most new attendees follow the Annual Meeting Basic Track Registration, which is designed for individuals who are just getting into leadership. The sessions and workshops tackle general topics in leadership like business writing, patient satisfaction, asset management, and regulatory compliance.

Moreover, the “Annual Meeting Registration” is the track option designed for experienced leaders “who are looking to stay up to date with all the real-time intelligence, best practices, and quality education they can get their hands on,” according to the event brochure, downloadable at the AHRA 2018 Annual Meeting website.

The website offers many more conference details than can be covered here. It also has some helpful tools, including a “Justification” button on the homepage that links users to a form that hopeful attendees can fill out, print, and submit to their employer for approval to attend the AHRA meeting.

Further, American Registry of Radiologic Technologists-approved continuing education (CE) credit will be offered with most sessions at the AHRA event. A barcode system will track CEs earned via attendees’ badges, which must be scanned upon entering and leaving a session to receive credit. Nightly, and again after the conference ends, AHRA will send attendees an e-mail with a summary of their CE credits earned at the annual meeting. “I once earned 18 credit hours at an AHRA conference,” Algee says. “If you do it right, you can accomplish a lot.”

To determine the type of content offered at the annual meeting, AHRA leadership survey members, review magazine articles, and monitor a very active member forum on its website. “One of our goals for every annual meeting,” Algee says, “is to provide attendees with some education they didn’t expect so that they walk away thinking, ‘Wow, I thought that workshop would be good, but that was really impressive! Now, based on what I have just learned, how can I go back and change what we are doing in our department?’”

Pre-Program Events

AHRA is the provider of the certified radiology administrator (CRA) exam, which is the only credential demonstrating advanced knowledge of the management skills needed to run a radiology department. “We are working really hard, and we have hospitals that are now starting to include the CRA as a preferred or required credential on job applications,” Algee notes.

The daylong CRA Exam is held on Sunday, which marks the pre-program portion of the annual meeting. Other pre-program activities include breakout sessions and workshops, an exhibitor symposium, and a new networking workshop called “Power of Connections: Making Lasting Images.”

The Executive Leadership Workshop is among the pre-program offerings as well. The three-hour program tackles an array of leadership topics, from staff engagement and the patient experience to eliminating waste by employing Lean Six Sigma techniques. “We have a lot of great leaders, but you don’t see a lot of radiology and imaging people in the C-suite. And so the Executive Leadership Workshop asks the question, ‘OK, how can we start getting people ready to make that next step?’” Algee says.

Sunday night, first-timers should “absolutely attend” the New Member and First Time Attendee Reception and the President’s Reception, advises Mark Feeley, chairman of the AHRA Annual Meeting Design Team. They are “the first opportunity to mingle with existing members, the board, and the design team—and kick off the week in style,” he says.

At the Podium

Although not the largest imaging conference, Algee says some years between 120 and 150 potential session presenters apply for the 70 to 80 open spots at the AHRA Annual Meeting. As a result, selecting the presenters for the sessions and workshops, and the three keynote speakers typically is the biggest challenge in planning the AHRA event, adds Feeley.

“As part of the design team, our first task is to interview every presenter that has applied to speak, along with keynotes. We get together and select the final line up,” he says. A primary goal for the design team “is getting the speaker mix just right. It is also the most rewarding part of the job. There is nothing like hearing directly from the attendees that the sessions and keynotes were excellent.”

This year’s opening keynote speaker is Kevin Brown. The motivational speaker will deliver his presentation, “The Hero Effect—Creating a Culture of Heroes at Every Level” on Monday morning. Other keynoters are human behavior expert, Collette Carlson, who will present “The Connected Leader” Tuesday morning. And as the AHRA meeting winds down Wednesday afternoon, author and workplace expert, Todd Henry, will present “How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.”

Meanwhile, because presenters and attendees at the sessions and workshops are mostly leaders themselves, they sometimes discover they hold the same jobs back home, Algee notes. “A lot of times it is peer-to-peer, which is great, because you are learning from people sitting in the same seat that you are, and they’re meeting the same challenges that you are facing in your job, and they’ve figured something out that they feel you need to know about,” he says.

On Display

Among the more than 150 vendors in the exhibit hall are big names like Siemens Healthineers, Samsung, GE Healthcare, Carestream, Fujifilm, Philips Healthcare, West Physics, and more, whose sponsorship is essential to putting on the AHRA Annual Meeting.

But others are mid-sized companies and newer vendors trying to break into the market. The smaller, leader-focused AHRA event arguably provides these vendors more bang for their collective buck than purchasing a booth at other prominent trade shows, Algee says. “The people coming to the AHRA are the decision makers. These are the people who are going to go back to their departments and have their boots on the ground and make things happen,” he says. AHRA’s size is also a boon to companies, Algee maintains. “At AHRA, you can be a pretty good-sized fish in a pretty decent-sized pond.”

Although vendors are not allowed to promote their products in sessions, they can do so in Exhibitor Symposiums they sponsor. Most symposiums focus on what companies have that’s new or on the horizon, AHRA officials say. Some also conduct focus groups and give out gift cards to attendees.

The symposiums are “are packed to the gills every single time,” Algee says. “You can have them at 7 a.m. and they will be packed. People will be getting chairs out of other rooms—and these are big rooms.” In fact, last year, a Philips symposium attracted more than 250 attendees, he says. While vendors and their sponsorship are integral to funding the annual meeting, it takes an army of volunteers to make the annual meeting and exhibit hall an affordable success, Algee says.

“This whole thing runs on volunteerism,” he says. “Of course, we have to hire a conference company. But, the design team is made up of volunteers. We have volunteers at every door scanning people in and out. We have volunteers making sure that people don’t get lost in the hallway. We have volunteers raising money for our Education Foundation…” Donations from AHRA members to the Education Foundation help fund the annual meeting, he adds.

A Family Affair

New to this year is the “AHRA Super Bash!” which helps close the annual meeting. “The design team and I promise that you’ll have a ‘super’ time on Wednesday night,” Feeley says. Finding something to do in Orlando will not be difficult for attendees during their limited downtime either. It can be a great opportunity to network as well, says Feeley, who urges attendees to step out of their comfort zone at the annual meeting.

“Sit with someone you don’t know at breakfast or lunch. Introduce yourself to as many people as you can, and I guarantee you’ll find new colleagues and make new friends,” he says. “You’ll be amazed at how many people share your challenges and want to hear about your best practices. We are all one big family, so please, be bold and invite people to get together after all the work is done.”

Algee concurs, likening an AHRA annual meeting to a family reunion. “It’s seeing people who you have met over the years and who have become your friends, and you look forward to seeing them,” he says. “And if you don’t see them, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, what happened to you? We missed you.’”

If you miss seeing somebody you were hoping to find in Orlando, try again next year at AHRA 2019, to be held July 21-24 in Denver.

Chuck Holt is associate editor of Axis Imaging News. Questions and comments can be directed to cholt@medqor.com.