Mayo Clinic CEO gives tips on physician engagement

Convincing doctors to embrace EHRs and other new tools takes data, Mayo Clinic chief executive John Noseworthy said, and once they see the impact and the value they will move much more quickly. 
By Neil Versel
08:54 AM

CHICAGO — Struggling to get clinicians interested in new processes and technologies?

"Show them value and they will come running to you," said Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy, MD, during a conversation with James Madara, MD, CEO and executive vice president of the American Medical Association. The two spoke Thursday at healthcare startup incubator Matter here.

"Physicians are slow to change," Noseworthy acknowledged. "Just yelling at them will not get them to change," he told a packed room of entrepreneurs and innovators. "They're slow to change —until they see the data.”

Show practitioners data on how an innovation can improve their lives or their patients' lives and they will be interested, according to the Mayo CEO.

"Physicians are, by and large, service-driven individuals," Noseworthy noted. "Physicians go into the field to serve patients."

Doctors were trained to do things a certain way, and they often can't see beyond what their mentors taught them, according to Noseworthy. An innovation has to demonstrate how it might move physicians and their patients to a better place, Noseworthy said.

Some of this skepticism toward workflow changes comes from frustrations clinicians have experienced with electronic health records, Noseworthy suggested. "It's not completely fair, but they see it as removing all the joy of work," he said. That reality has turned physicians off when it comes to other technologies.

"This loss of meaning" is driving physician burnout, Madara added, citing a 2013 AMA-RAND Health study on physician satisfaction.

Madara recalled a panel discussion he took part in with Andy Slavitt at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January. Slavitt, then in his final days as acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the only thing that he was sure would improve the practice of medicine would be to give time back to physicians.

To that end, Madara and Noseworthy offered advice to startups looking to sell their wares to health systems and physicians.

Mayo has but one criterium driving all of its research and innovation: "What is the unmet need of the patient?" Noseworthy said.

This helps accelerate the movement of innovation from lab to clinic, something that is notoriously slow in healthcare.

Madara said that IT executives and entrepreneurs must understand the incentives they are offering to entice doctors to try something new. In medicine and other cognitive fields, the AMA CEO noted that people are moved by intrinsic incentives, such as time with patients.

But programs like Meaningful Use offered financial carrots — and later sticks — to adopt EHRs. Extrinsic rewards and penalties have a way of complicating the equation, Madara said.

"Classical economics got a hold of this field before behavioral economics came along," he said.

But if an innovation can help clinicians produce better patient outcomes, it will find a market, Noseworthy suggested. "The work you’re doing, the output of the work you're doing, we hope, will be rewarded," Noseworthy said.

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