December 2004 Bulletin

Make your opinions count

By Lewis Jenkins

As a membership association, the AAOS is committed to developing programs and products that meet the needs of its fellowship. Although the Board of Councilors and Board of Directors represent a wide cross-section of members and a range of opinions, not everyone can volunteer at such a time-consuming level. So the Academy is continually seeking ways to tap the collective insights and ideas of members. Focus groups and the new Orthopaedic Opinion Group are two ways that you can have an impact on the future of AAOS.

Focus groups

Orthopaedic surgeons are early risers. Early morning focus groups scheduled in tandem with courses at the Orthopaedic Learning Center (OLC) or with the Annual Meeting take advantage of that fact.

At each Annual Meeting, the Academy sponsors a series of focus groups that investigate members’ opinions on topics ranging from maintenance of certification to orthopaedic advocacy. Focus groups explore a group’s reaction to a common set of questions about a topic, idea, proposed program or product. The group is aware that the process is being videotaped and that Academy staff members are observing the discussion from a remote location. Later, a member of the Academy’s marketing research staff reviews the tapes to extract the group’s responses, attitudes and opinions; the way problems are framed; the language used and the overall perceptions.

Focus group research frequently is in the news today because it offers an inexpensive and flexible way to offer customer input in such diverse arenas as consumer package/durable goods development, advertising and politics. The groups test reactions, perceptions and attitudes as well as refine strategic directions. For almost a decade, the Academy has used in-house staff to manage and now conduct a series of focus group studies among fellows and residents attending the Annual Meeting. The Academy has perhaps the largest focus group program of any medical specialty organization.

Working from a discussion guide that structures the conversation, the focus group moderator carefully probes the participants’ views.

“Orthopaedic surgeons don’t hold back their opinions,” says Mark Samuels, an Academy staff member who leads many focus groups. “They are used to speaking their minds. My job as moderator is to cover all the questions in the discussion guide—so we get the information we are after—and to make sure that all the participants get the chance to be heard.” Later, the findings are summarized in a research report.

“The opinions and observations of a group of 10 to 12 people are often fascinating,” agrees CEO Karen L. Hackett, FACHE, CAE. “However, we know that the sample size is too small to ‘take the results to the bank.’ So we often use focus groups to help shape or refine the questions we will use on a mail survey that later will go to thousands of members and provide more statistically reliable results. Our overall goal is to identify and accurately gauge the needs and opinions of Academy members and then act on this information.”

Since 1996, the Academy has held more than 20 focus groups a year. Orthopaedic surgeons have volunteered their time to discuss topics on a wide variety of subjects. Any major congregation of fellows may be fair game as a focus group venue. The Academy is most successful at the Annual Meeting and at OLC courses.

“We know that orthopaedic surgeons are bombarded with requests for their opinion,” says AAOS First Vice President Stuart L. Weinstein, MD. “So, we’re delighted with the response we’ve been getting from our members to participate in focus groups and to complete our surveys. Our research program helps move the Academy toward our goal of becoming a ‘knowledge-based’ organization that makes decisions based on data.”

“When we last went through the re-accreditation process that allows us to offer CME credit for our programs, we were given an Exemplary rating for needs assessment,” says Mark W. Wieting, chief education officer of the Academy. “Focus groups are a key part of that process. We are not aware of another medical society that seeks out so many members’ opinions as consistently and frequently.”

New ways to be heard

Recently, the AAOS sent out a call for volunteers for an Orthopaedic Opinion Group—orthopaedic surgeons who agree to provide their opinions on a number of issues. Early in the planning process, this group can weigh in on projects critical to orthopaedists or to critique a complimentary product. The results of the Orthopaedic Opinion Group will influence many levels of AAOS decision-makers in committees, councils and the Board of Directors itself.

About once a quarter, participants will receive a short battery of questions requiring no more than 10 to 15 minutes to complete. The responses are tabulated to provide insights and commentary on proposed products, hot issues and programs that are important to AAOS members. The Academy assures participants that their privacy will be respected; reports will always aggregate any comments.

Your invitation

If you are invited to participate in an Academy focus group at the Annual Meeting or an OLC course, try to squeeze it into your schedule. It’s an excellent opportunity to help provide direction for critical future Academy programs and to become part of the process. The topic will always be relevant to your profession. The discussion with your peers will always be interesting.

To enroll in the orthopaedic opinion group, send an e-mail to with Orthopaedic Opinion Group Volunteer in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the message body. Enrollment will be capped at a manageable number, so if you want to participate, send that e-mail quickly!

Lewis Jenkins is the Academy’s director of marketing and customer service.

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