What started as a Chapter initiative more than 20 years ago is now a regionwide educational event attended by hundreds of healthcare finance professionals each year.
Microsoft Excel first launched in 1985, but it took another decade before it became the dominant spreadsheet application. The increasing popularity of the product provided an opportunity for HFMA’s Hudson Valley Chapter.
“We were looking for practical content to give our members,” said Marianne Muise, FHFMA, MBA, who served as the Chapter’s 1999-2000 president. “Enhancing Excel and Access skills seemed like an obvious choice for finance professionals. Most of us were given the software to use at work, but with no training. We were all self-learning.”
Muise, who is a principal with Healthcare Management Solutions LLC, said the Hudson Valley Chapter leadership believed that such training would benefit members by enabling them to enhance their skills and work more effectively. They also believed it was a way to show the value of HFMA membership to employers.
The Hudson Valley Chapter offered its first two-day Microsoft Excel class in 2000.
“Our finance educational sessions weren’t normally scheduled in the summer months, so we decided to informally promote it as ‘summer school,’” said Muise.
Evolving to meet members’ needs
The summer school-style training proved popular with Chapter members and was then offered every two years. Eventually, it became an annual event.
“When the training originally started, we typically had either half- or full-day sessions,” said Michael Gera, MS, managing partner of Healthcare Computer Training Group in New York City, who has taught Hudson Valley’s Excel training series from the start. “Over the last few years, however, the training has been more focused and is generally provided in more digestible modules of between 60 and 90 minutes.”
Another change was the pivot to remote training.
“The Chapter started offering remote training even before the pandemic, mostly because it covers such a large geographic area — over 100 miles from end to end,” said Gera. “Participants couldn’t always get free from office responsibilities to travel to these training events, so attendance has gone way up as a result of the utilization of remote training even prior to the pandemic.”
Taking it regional
More change took place in 2019 when the Hudson Valley Chapter teamed up with Region 2 leadership to make the popular educational program available to healthcare finance professionals throughout the Region. The “Advance Your Excel Skills” series morphed from an in-person event to a webinar, which took place on five days over a two-month period. It kicked off with a day devoted teaching the fundamentals to those new to Excel. The other four days featured three separate 90-minute tracks, each focused on the needs of Excel users at specific levels — beginner, intermediate and advanced.
“We had overwhelming response and interest,” said Christina Santullo, CRCR, current president of the Hudson Valley Chapter and director of client services for Quality Billing Service in Poughkeepsie, New York. “Our first year , we had 13 sessions with a total of 703 participants.”
Santullo said that the 2022 series is currently underway and has been expanded to include other Microsoft Office applications including Outlook and Word. The first four sessions attracted 150 participants.
“We receive very good feedback on the sessions and have learned this to be a very valuable training for all of our members and colleagues,” said Santullo. “Small tips and tricks can change the way you use Excel and Microsoft products. We learn something new each year.”
Having a knowledgeable, engaging instructor like Gera is key to the program’s success and longevity, according to both Santullo and Muise.
“Mike Gera is a great instructor,” said Muise. “He’s able to hold the attention of the attendees for the entire session, even when they were six or seven hours in one day.”