When the Pandemic Hit, This Association Started Acting Like a Startup

How the American Health Information Management Association’s adaptability allowed them to continue their mission during COVID-19.

To survive and thrive in the face of this world-changing pandemic, organizations must learn to be nimble and act like startups—even if they’ve been doing what they do for nearly a century.

Such is the case for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), which has been dedicated to improving health data integrity for almost 100 years.

“We deal with patient records, coding, privacy and security of health data, and all things related to a patient’s information” says Vicky Betzig, Director of Meetings at AHIMA. “And since COVID-19, so many of the guidelines and regulations seem to have gone right out the window! So much has changed so fast for the members we serve, and in turn, we have had to change quickly in order to meet their new needs.”

Here’s how the AHIMA is using technology to help health information professionals navigate their new normal.

Knowing what you don’t know

“The biggest challenges in the early days of the pandemic were just not knowing anything. I keep telling people, ‘My crystal ball is broken. Have you got one that’s working?’” laughs Betzig.

Like many associations, annual events are a key revenue driver for AHIMA. But all of the uncertainty of when states would re-open (and if anyone would come even if they were) led AHIMA to do something they’ve never done in their long history: convert from in-person to virtual events.

Where some people would just cross their fingers and hope for the best, Betzig used this as an opportunity to learn. “We called in a virtual guru to help us, who is just amazing. I am learning a lot because she just knows everything and she’s helping us reinvent and rethink what we offer our members.”

Thanks to that outside expertise, rather than a stitched-together series of video calls and presentations, attendees to AHIMA’s various new virtual meetings will enjoy truly innovative virtual experiences.

“We’ve created many engaging and interactive components: We have a Concierge Desk with a live AHIMA staff person to answer questions and dance breaks with our high-level staff leading the dancing on camera,” explains Betzig. “We’re leveraging technology that allows for face-to-face networking with colleagues too. It’s really all about the overall experience; listening to pre-recorded sessions doesn’t offer the networking – which is equally of interest to the attendees as the education! ”

Nurturing relationships

AHIMA uses Personify’s A2Z Events as their exhibitor and sponsor database, and they relied on that technology heavily when they made the quick change from in-person to virtual. Betzig explains that they saw competitors cancel events with little warning—and seemingly zero regard for their partner relationships. “They did not offer exhibitors any refunds or chance to recoup their losses, and that did not go over well,” she notes. AHIMA learned from the reactions to that, and thanks to their database, were able to efficiently and effectively communicate with their partners.

“We told our exhibitors they had four options: move your investment to next year’s meeting, which will hopefully have a face-to-face component. Shift your investment to something else happening later this year. Put your money toward this virtual event. Or you can get a full refund. And I’m happy to say that a large number of them chose to go virtual with us,” says Betzig.

Having empathy for members

“We’ve had a lot of people in our profession who have experienced salary reductions or lost their jobs entirely. So at the association, there’s been a lot of advocacy around helping them find resources for employment,” explains Betzig. AHIMA has been assisting out-of-work industry people transfer their skills to new endeavors like contact tracing, and knowing that the pandemic has put many people in tough financial positions, are trying to offer lower-priced options for the various resources we provide.

“I am very proud of the association,” says Betzig of the work they’ve done and the direction they’re moving. “We’re really coming out and taking a public stand about important issues—from health to unemployment to race relations. And we’re backing it up by utilizing powerful technology to constantly communicate, giving members and non-members alike the resources that they need to further their careers and improve the industry for everyone.”

Personify—We know this challenging time has created new and unique challenges in engaging with members, managing financials and driving your organization forward. Personify is committed to helping you adapt and emerge from COVID-19 or any crisis, more connected and resilient than ever. Our trusted solutions help you manage during and through these times with digital connections, virtual programming, a single source of truth for your data, and peace of mind for your members.

(Handout photo)