In Lessons Blog

Last week, I had the pleasure to speak at Transform 2017, the annual multi-day conference put on by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. This year’s program was incredible, focusing on “closing the gap between people and health.” In terms of program design, speakers weren’t just asked to stand up and present. They engaged in debate with each other, and were invited to answer questions from attendees at the end of each session.

I can’t remember a better educational format than this one, nor a better host. Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of the smart and prescriptive bestseller “An American Sickness,” was an excellent moderator and is a keen observer of healthcare’s biggest challenges. Throughout Transform 2017, she was joined on stage by some of the top names in healthcare, technology, culture and economics.

Transform 2017 host Libby Rosenthal on stage with Clayton Christensen, one of the most influential business minds in the world and a long-time role model to the healthcare profession.

It’s no surprise that the Mayo Clinic was behind such innovative and elevated event. The Mayo Clinic is one of the nation’s premier medical institutions. Founded over a century ago in Rochester, Minnesota, by the Mayo brothers, it has grown to more than 4,500 physicians and nearly 60,000 staff. It invests $600 million a year in research and is consistently ranked No. 1 or close to it on every survey of hospitals in the United States. Mayo is also a leader in medical student and resident education. It’s mission focuses on patient care, and provides exceptional quality and service to those in the geography, and patients who fly in for their cutting-edge treatments. I had the opportunity to work with their leaders during my time as chairman of the Council of Accountable Physician Practices, and have the highest admiration and respect for their clinical care, research, education and values.

During the conference, the area of greatest interest among the eclectic crowd of attendees was on the ways the current healthcare system mistreats both patients and physicians. Uncertainty about the future – especially in the context of the chaos in Washington, D.C. – has impacted doctors and patients alike. Everyone in the audience is well aware that changes in how doctors are evaluated and paid by traditional Medicare could massively affect both coverage and access. Everyone would like a clear vision for the future, and yet things are becoming more clouded by the day as crucial questions around Medicare, Medicaid and the insurance exchanges remain unanswered. At this moment, the Cost Sharing Reduction payments (CSR) remain at risk as doctors confront the unsettling possibility of moving to a healthcare system that is run by each of the 50 states with unclear expectations and funding sources.

In my panel discussion at Transform, titled “Overcoming Inertia,” I spoke about the key role of leadership in making change happen before a crisis develops. I believe leaders of the future will need a broad understanding of care delivery and the business skills to translate potential into reality. Change and uncertainty has become the new normal. In that context, strategic thinking and action are essential.

I capped off my stay in Rochester with an exciting and informative debate on the topic “Is The U.S. Healthcare System Terminally Broken”? The debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared U.S. and moderated by author and ABC News correspondent John Donvan (center of image below).

Joining me on stage for the debate:

  • Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., oncologist, author, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. I’ve known Zeke for many years and was honored to share the opposing side of the stage in this nationally broadcast debate. His new book “Prescription for the Future” speaks to the critical importance of higher quality and lower cost care.
  • David T. Feinberg, M.D., MBA, the president and CEO of Geisinger, one of the nation’s largest health services organizations known for reinventing medical care. David was Zeke’s debate partner and is a terrific orator. I am eager to see the influence of his leadership on patient health and the system of medical care for many years to come.
  • Shannon Brownlee, senior vice president of the Lown Institute and a visiting scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Shannon is a well-known writer and thinker on important healthcare topics. Shannon joined me in arguing for the motion. I enjoy reading her work in The Atlantic, New York Times, Washington Post, and other top outlets.

Of course, there were no definitive answers to the specific concerns and fears raised by those on stage or in the audience, but the attendees no doubt soaked up most current and relevant information throughout the entire conference, and returned home with new ideas to improve the care they provide. Nearly all participants I spoke with plan to come back to Transform next year.

Dr. Robert Pearl is the bestselling author of “Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Health Care–And Why We’re Usually Wrong” and a Stanford University professor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertPearlMD

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