Monday, January 31, 2011

Physicians and Disruptive Innovation

Last week, ACPE Vice President of Career Services Barbara Linney hosted a webinar on career options that broke previous attendance records. This one was notable for the number of physicians looking outside the hospital sector for new roles. Consulting, insurance, pharma, or entrepreneurial ventures were mentioned as preferred destinations.

I’ve been racking up frequent flyer miles the past few months doing on site training on clinical leadership and moving from autonomy to teamwork in a health care system undergoing stress and change. If energy, enthusiasm, and engagement of the audience is an indicator of most physicians’ state of mind, it appears that many are thinking about what they can do beyond individual patient care to provide remedies for a broken system, and to get more satisfaction from their professional careers.

The topic of disruptive innovation generates the most animated discussion. They’ve been giving thought – when they can steal a few moments from their roles as production workers in the fee for service system – to what they would change, and the technologies or business models that would help them do just that.

Just as we talk of the ACO concept as moving from “volume to value” for consumers and purchasers, clinicians are thinking how they can provide value beyond their role as patient care “volume producers”. Henry Ford’s comment about the people wanting “a faster horse” before his disruptive innovation of the Model T resonates with physicians. Most don’t believe they can be a “faster horse” in their practice situations. They cite patient safety and quality as their first concerns. Our pledge as physicians to “first, do no harm” is jeopardized.

John Agwunobi, a long time ACPE member and Senior Vice President at WalMart, made some very insightful comments last week on a conference call with us here in Tampa. John is using his background as a MD, MBA and MPH to change the status quo through his role at WalMart. The joint announcement by WalMart and First Lady Michele Obama last week about reducing salt, sugar, and fat content of foods sold at WalMart as one step to improve the health of our population is just one example of that.

John (and I) encourage you to think of being a physician as just the start of your lifelong journey of learning, improving health, and making a difference in people’s lives. Your clinical experience is a foundation for adding new competencies that will give you new opportunities to improve health and health care. Imagine what you might be doing if you didn’t view being a physician as your only identity, or the only valid destination for your learning and education!

Would you learn how to incorporate engineering principles of reliability and safety into patient care? How about learning how to lead people from different professional backgrounds? Does disruptive innovation appeal to you? Starting a new business, or improving the business we’re in? Studying behavioral economics to find ways to change our population’s unhealthy lifestyles and habits?

Like you, I’m proud of my path to becoming a physician, and honored to be recognized as such. Paradoxically, recognizing that there are many other people and professionals – besides physicians - who make important contributions in our society and work just as hard, helped me put my “physicianhood” in proper perspective. It was the foundation to build on – not the ultimate destination in my life.

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