By PETER ROUSMANIERE, an expert on the workers' compensation industry.
In the years I have been attending industry conferences, I do not recall a more informative, invigorating conference experience than this November's pairing of two national events. The National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo took place in Las Vegas on November 9-11. In Boston, the Workers Compensation Research Institute's annual conference was held on November 16-17.
At the workers' comp and disability conference you mix with a sprawling crowd representing employers, vendors and experts. The primary focus is the practice of managing work injuries. To meet an array of professionals and to learn best practices of the moment, this one is the best.
For more rigorous analysis of the workers' comp system, presented often with a public policy view, the WRCI conference is your better bet. Some attendees come almost directly from Las Vegas, brushing sparkles off their clothes and turning into systems thinkers for two days. The WRCI is reshaping the discussion of workers' compensation through its ongoing multistate analyses.
The NCCI's Annual Issues Symposium, held in Orlando in May, is a must if you want to understand financial trends among workers' compensation insurers, and if you want to talk with insurance executives. You also learn about NCCI's latest special topic research, which is very solid, and can be influential.
Lucky for me, I go to all three.
One of the hottest topics at these conferences is chronic pain, in particular opioid use. We'll be hearing about this next year too, for sure. In Las Vegas at the workers' comp and disability conference, I asked Jim Andrews, an executive at Healthcare Solutions, at what year he thought that the industry might really control pain medication.
He thought for a moment, then said, 2020. Andrews' informal forecast is consistent with the time frames of resolving past problems in claims management.
It is gratifying to hear talented researchers present each year. They include Frank Schmid at NCCI and Donchung Wang at WCRI. Their sessions give a feeling of extended conversations with them.
But the practical value of these events is in the formal presentations, strong as they usually are. Common to all is the serendipity of coming across complete strangers who help your career flourish.
The workers' comp and disability conference is the only one with the large exhibitor hall. The WCRI conference allows no exhibitors, and the NCCI conference has about a dozen exhibitors. I try to inspect the workers' comp and disability exhibitors on the perimeter. They are usually newer to the conference, and the top executives are more available.
For example, Jim Paugh, who founded the National WorkersComp Clearinghouse last year, stood at his attractive booth near a corner of the hall. He told me he found several good prospects while handing out 250 business cards.
It's cool to come to the workers' comp and disability conference, to be held again in Las Vegas next year, and mostly do business away from the conference. One executive who markets managed care services spent most of her time meeting clients, prospects and business partners. She also analyzed the mix of exhibitors.
"I could hardly go 10 steps," she told me, "without running into someone I have known from my 20-plus years in the industry. Some reunions are heartfelt and others feel like an episode of the Housewives of Orange County."
Why do we go to conferences? The green eyeshade rationales include networking, selling, buying, and that basically amorphous desire to increase our knowledge and skills. But when I look back over the 40 or so conferences I've attended in the past decade, what I recall is a palpable increase in confidence, emerging a few days later, of a vision less obscured by confusion. It is hard to put a price on that.
December 6, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications