The opportunity to participate in my clients’ stories is one of the reasons I love being a consultant. To write our book, Association 4.0—Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption, we interviewed leaders who strive to stay a step ahead of the future. CHEST is one association that doesn’t shy away from bold moves, and .orgSource has been lucky enough to help them navigate several major transitions. For those who are considering strategic or technology leaps, CHEST’s experience, which is also described in our book, is sure to inspire.

From One Patient to 19,000 Members

After Murray Kornfeld recovered from tuberculosis, he had a dream that one day there would be an institution devoted to disseminating state-of-the-art research and education about diseases of the chest. He dedicated much of his life to this purpose. Today the organization he founded in 1935, the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), more than realizes that vision.

CHEST is a world-wide authority for both healthcare providers and patients on diseases of the chest. The organization represents 19,000 members in more than 100 countries. Through its journal, CHEST provides information about pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. The association also offers year-round live and online courses; as well as books and mobile apps. In addition, CHEST is a center for simulation education. The CHEST community includes broad-based representation of medical disciplines related to the chest. The organization’s reach also extends to nurses, medical students, and many other industry professionals.

The association prides itself on an innovative approach that responds rapidly to changing demographics, advancing technology, and the shift from growing membership to increasing the engagement of an expanding profession. The staff and volunteer leaders are creative problem-solvers who embrace innovation and change. When an evolving customer base signaled a chance to seize fresh opportunities, CHEST responded enthusiastically.

Synchronizing Technology and Operations

The move to a state-of-the-art office allowed for advanced technology solutions.

Robert Musacchio, CHEST’s CEO and Executive Vice President says, “The association’s focus has expanded beyond private practitioners. We now support physician and non-physician clinicians working in small private practices to larger healthcare systems. We expanded our membership to include advance practice providers and industry professionals.” CHEST recognized a new market and began to reposition itself to accommodate a broader base. To increase visibility and relevance, the association looked beyond the membership for audiences who could benefit from their education and content. This expanded orientation directly impacted almost every aspect of operations.

In just four years, CHEST gave itself a complete makeover, an accomplishment that could easily have taken a decade. A significant physical change symbolized and facilitated the operational shifts that were to come. The Association moved to a sleek custom-built office in Glenview, Illinois. The state-of-the-art building allowed for technology that could introduce a global approach to education and a variegated membership model. Updated learning, member and content management systems were needed to launch the innovative vision. These complex projects were put on a fast-track in order to fully synchronize technology and operations.

.orgSource stepped in to help guide the development. Outlining an information and technology strategy was a foundational step of the process. This plan would be the framework for a redesigned website and the additional building blocks needed to deeply engage current and future members.

Exploring Member Needs

To gain an understanding of member needs .orgSource held phone interviews with constituent groups.

An interdisciplinary team spearheaded the project. The first assignment was to discover what users needed and wanted most. The entire membership was invited to participate in an online survey. Almost 5,000 people provided feedback. Every aspect of the user experience was analyzed including:

  • When and how members preferred to access the site
  • Opinions about content and functionality
  • The site’s perceived value to its users

This broad-based sampling of data was followed by a closer more focused analysis. To gain an intimate understanding of members’ preferences .orgSource scheduled telephone interviews with specific constituent groups. We talked with board leaders and both long-standing and recent members. To identify industry trends, the team also studied websites created by organizations serving the same or similar audiences.

Medical technology is changing almost faster than its practitioners can keep up. CHEST users wanted their association to make it easy for them to be current. Collaboration is another way healthcare professionals stay abreast of the latest developments. So, an online community that would maximize networking capabilities was essential. Overall, members were looking for robust educational content driven by efficient navigation and search capabilities. A card sort exercise, where users group, label and put information in categories that make sense to them, was integral to creating an intuitive experience.

“How providers access information when providing care for their patients has changed tremendously over the last decade,” says Musacchio. “We have changed how we curate our content and expanded the methods in which we share it. Making sure the right information is available in the right place at the right time.”

In one year major system updates and integrations were installed. A new enterprise content management system made capturing, storing, retrieving and securing media of all kinds easier and more efficient. Learning management, collaboration tools and a cutting-edge publications platform were launched. An improved taxonomy and multifaceted search capability delivered on members’ expectations for a rewarding online experience. These are some of the features that are taking CHEST into the future:

  • A homepage that puts the brand’s best foot forward with an impactful design and relevant current information
  • An efficient and intuitive navigation system that quickly takes users where they want to go
  • Both evergreen and continuously updated clinical content including enhanced e-learning opportunities
  • More effective use of video and other multimedia formats
  • News coverage that includes both association specific activities and updates from the healthcare community
  • Ease of use on any device

Managing Disruption

In a volatile economy, healthcare is one of the sectors most vulnerable to disruption. CHEST must move as fast as the industry it represents. “The industry’s landscape is always changing and it is our role to determine what new ideas and opportunities will make the most meaningful impact to those we serve,” says Musacchio. “Prioritizing these ideas while continuing to move forward is essential to our growth. ” CHEST takes periodic pulse checks by convening work groups to identify trends and constituent needs. The organization adjusts its education offerings based on this feedback. The goal is to always be on pace with advances in the profession.

While CHEST must embrace new developments, it must also objectively evaluate whether techniques or therapies could pose a professional threat. “Advances in technology such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality can be simultaneously exciting and intimidating,” says Musacchio. “We can’t ignore how technology is changing how we interact as healthcare providers, patients, and caregivers. It is our role to help usher the relationship between medical science and technological advances to ensure the best care is provided to patients across the world. ”

For CHEST and its members innovation must continue to be business as usual. As someone who works with associations of every stripe, I hope to see more organizations taking this proactive approach to transformation in their industries.

Read more about how associations are preparing for the future at Association 4.0—Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption