Celebrating Associations: How CHEST Took Operational Transformation to Heart

Association and History: Founded in 1935 by a single patient, CHEST (the American College of Chest Physicians) aims to advance the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chest diseases through education, communication, and research. The Glenview, Ill.-based nonprofit offers content in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine throught its journal CHEST, year-round meetings, live and online courses, books, and mobile apps. Accredited by ACCME (Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education) and the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, CHEST also provides simulation education. The CHEST Foundation provides clinical research and community service grants, patient education tools, and more.

About Its Members: With more than 19,000 members and 60,000 customers, CHEST serves a variety of chest medicine professionals who deliver patient care in more than 100 countries. The CHEST community includes physicians specializing in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, cardiothoracic surgeons, pediatric pulmonologists, anesthesiologists, general medicine physicians, hospitalists, and more. Beyond physicians, CHEST also engages advanced practice nurses, fellows-in-training, medical students, interns, residents, physician assistants, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, practice administrators, and industry professionals.

We’re Celebrating at CHEST Because: At the end of April, CHEST will have successfully completed its first full year since implementation of a new association management system (AMS) and new membership model.

And Also Because: CHEST is continuing to innovate in response to challenges facing all organizations—demographic changes, technology evolvement, and the shift from growing “membership” to growing “engagement of the profession”. Whether it’s understanding the impact of Millennials on the market, responding to the need to “go mobile” with education and communications, or thinking about how to respond to all customers—not just members—CHEST’s staff and volunteer leadership continues to innovate.

We’ll Learn More in an Interview With: Paul A. Markowski, CHEST’s Executive Vice President & Chief Executive Officer, and Ronald M. Moen, CHEST’s Chief Information Officer.

Q: What do you think CHEST has done particularly well in the last couple of years? 

A: We are less structured on a membership based on titles, degrees and clinical categories—we are more open-armed. CHEST welcomes all who provide clinical care for patients with chest disease, engaging physicians as well as other providers such as nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and physician assistants. In the past, the community was more physician-focused and had fewer categories of membership. Now we are less of a physicians-only organization, and more about the delivery of team-based care and great patient outcomes.

At the same time, we are going more “niche.” We have found that is better than trying to be everything to everybody. We are more clear, more focused on what we’re good at, which is clinical education.

Q: Describe in more detail the physical and philosophical changes CHEST has recently made to deliver on its mission and value.

A: During a three to four-year endeavor, we brought together leaders from all the different departments—from governance to education to marketing to publications—to choose optimal technology solutions for our internal and external customers. Our robust, new AMS/CRM was launched last spring to improve and simplify the way the CHEST community engages with the organization online. We also embarked on a new LMS, CMS, and self-service website within the past four years—as well as moved to a new built-to-suit headquarters building. Not many organizations have the fortitude to take on all of these initiatives in the same time span. But if you don’t have this synchronization of technology and operations, you can’t get the 360-degree view of the member.

The synchronization and roll out of the technology is paying off in spades. From improved membership renewal processes to pushing out product and service recommendations, the expectations and adoptions of the new technology are high. Success at the end overshadowed what we went through, but should not minimize the challenges, even drama at times, and the sweat equity of staff taking on as much as they did—almost doubling what they were doing by leading us through design and implementation of new solutions.

Along with implementing new technology, we launched a new membership model last spring. Since its launch, we’ve been able to retain more than 90 percent of existing members, while increasing membership across every targeted growth segment—from non-physician health care professionals and industry members, to global members and all levels and types of clinicians in training.

We also now evaluate new project ideas through a strategic gating process. While an idea may seem good and necessary, the timing may not be optimal or the idea may not be revenue producing. With gating in place, we make data-driven decisions.

Q: What changes at CHEST are on the horizon? What new offerings or improvements are being planned for internal and external customers?

A: We’re now looking at a new growth strategy. We’re opening ourselves up for new communities to participate with us. We’re creating opportunities to offer and distribute education digitally. For instance, this fall CHEST will be offering 90 online courses that will be mobile enabled and CME eligible as we see a lot of continuing medical education is more adaptable to “burst learning”.

We have changed our content and marketing strategy. It’s no longer about what you make and push out. It’s about what you have and can make available for people to obtain when and how they want it. It’s making the right content available to them at the right time on the right device. It’s a very different way for organizations to think. It’s a change from classic product marketing to content marketing—so everything is ready for when the consumer needs it. We just need to make sure our brand and content is well enough known.

CHEST has been providing simulation-based, hands-on education for more than a decade. We are now working on attracting more societies to host their simulation training in our new facility. These groups can construct their content and faculty, but not have to make the infrastructure investment. We are a great bridge from research and development to the real ICU. In addition, we rent out space for non-clinical purposes—such as leadership retreats—as it is an innovative meeting space outside the clinical realm.

Q: What’s a particular challenge that CHEST faces?

A: Being able to consistently deliver high-quality education experiences globally, keeping in the mind the competency, culture and levels of sophistication of various countries. For example, CHEST is now in China helping to create a subspecialty in pulmonary and critical care—something the United States did 30 years ago. It’s a daunting task to manage the desire of hundreds of physicians in China who want to be trained in this subspecialty while working with the Chinese government and health ministry.

Q: If you could wave a magic wand and accomplish or obtain anything for CHEST, what would it be?

A: More “patience” and “patients” for our physicians and community members. The immediacy of the medical community to have the “here and now” is always a challenge. Wanting to be the first with knowledge and being up to date is a very challenging balancing act.

Also important is maximizing and optimizing our simulation training center as well as making our on-demand, online education more readily available so folks don’t have to come to a live-learning session to access important training.

And increasing our business intelligence to make even more informed decisions and identify future customers is always a desire.