Mayo Clinic has a long history of innovation. In 1889, Mayo formed the first group practice of medicine and by 1929 had grown to 386 physicians. As Mayo-trained physicians left the organization and traveled around the country, they frequently established their own group practices based on the Mayo model, forming over 125 around the country by 1932.
Why did this group practice model spread? I believe a primary reason is that it was a successful incubator for innovation. With the advancement of healthcare, it was no longer possible for one physician to provide for all their patients’ needs. This model allowed physicians with different specialties to complement each other and turned Mayo Clinic into a place of firsts. The first group practice. The first program in graduate medical education, the first medical and research nonprofit, the first blood bank. The first commercial heart-lung machine. The first hip replacement. The first CT scanner. The list goes on! What makes Mayo Clinic so ripe for innovation?
WHY INNOVATION THRIVES AT MAYO CLINIC
There was an article in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago discussing why innovation thrives at Mayo, and they identified three unique conditions:
Limited Resources. Healthcare is a low-margin business. Many healthcare organizations feel lucky to have margins around five percent. Technology companies, on the other hand, have margins of twenty percent or more. Even at a place like Mayo Clinic, the resources are limited, forcing us
to innovate to succeed.
Connectedness. Many describe Mayo as an organization where the focus is on cooperative individualism. Mayo physicians earn a salary, rather than receive payment per procedure, leading to an environment that nurtures innovation through collaboration and cooperation. Mayo physicians rely on each other to take care of their patients.
Diversity. Very few people are experts in everything, especially today. So, diversity in this context refers to the different disciplines and specialties within Mayo Clinic that collaborate on the care of patients. Healthcare is complex and hard to understand, but specialization enables an increase in efficiency and productivity. However, communication between specialists is difficult, and the role of the generalist becomes even more crucial. Mayo Clinic has the foremost experts in the world in a variety of disciplines. Further, we have people whose job is to coordinate that expertise to be most beneficial for the patient.
THE ROLE OF ENGINEERING AT MAYO
Dr. William Mayo once said, “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered, and in order that the sick may have the benefit of advancing knowledge, union of forces is necessary.”
It’s as if we are declaring war on sickness and infirmity – in a sense, that is exactly what we have done here at Mayo Clinic. As part of our “union of forces,” Mayo combines medical disciplines with various other specialists, such as engineers, computer scientists, basic science researchers, and some of the top administrators in the world. Early in the organization’s history, we recognized the role of technology in healthcare. Mayo formed the first instrument shop in 1915, which ultimately turned into the Division of Engineering by 1948.
Within our engineering team, we replicated the Mayo collaborative model by combining many engineering disciplines into one organization devoted to solving problems for the company. We looked around the country and found no other healthcare organization with an internal engineering team quite like ours.
So, what makes engineering special at Mayo? We are accessible. Our physicians can talk to us today. There is no cost, no approvals, no non-disclosure agreements, no contracts required. Simply give us a call, and we will stop by. We also provide an opportunity to centralize costly engineering services and provide cost savings by distributing overhead across multiple projects.
The Mayo Clinic Engineering team continues to innovate both its business model and areas of focus. We align with Mayo’s strategic plan and major clinical initiatives, partnering with clinical innovation teams and colleagues in Mayo Clinic Ventures, the Mayo Clinic Office of Translation to Practice, the Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange, and the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship.
We work with teams in transplant surgery, fetal medicine, neurology, neurosurgery, and cardiovascular diseases to develop the next generation of tools and devices. These advancements support our most at-risk patients to perform better, quicker, and more accurate diagnostics and to improve the therapy options available to our healthcare providers. Could there be a better partnership than one between the exceptional Mayo surgeons and a dedicated engineering team? Innovations from this clinician-engineer partnership have led to many licensed products and support the move towards personalized care. For example, our team is developing point-of-care printed patient-matched implants, leveraging its Additive Manufacturing Facility and stable 3D polymer and metal printers.
The engineering team is also adapting to meet the organization’s changing needs by pushing toward rapid innovation and prototyping processes that support the changing pace of invention required to remain competitive and provide the best healthcare in the world.
MOVING INNOVATION FORWARD TODAY
Today’s challenges require an innovative mindset more than ever. In the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, the engineering team entirely refocused to help Mayo Clinic respond to the urgent and emergent needs brought on by the virus. The engineering team re-invented itself to focus on supply chain issues. These challenges include parts in short supply for respiratory therapy, various protective devices for patients and staff, tests of aerosol clearance times to ensure that operating and procedure rooms are safe, and much more.
As we look to the future, Mayo Clinic is committed to home and remote healthcare and is working towards a digital platform transformation.
If you want to measure the success of an innovative organization, you must look at its results. We know that innovation will shape the future, but often organizations don’t look at metrics on the results of their innovation programs. From creating a next-generation home health monitoring solution to helping develop the deep brain simulation system, innovation at Mayo is about results.
About Mark Wehde
Mark Wehde is chair of the Mayo Clinic Division of Engineering, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, and fellow in the Mayo Clinic Academy of Educational Excellence. Mark is the executive leader of a team of engineers, software developers, and project managers focusing on both product discovery and product delivery of solutions to problems faced by our healthcare providers.