Why Physicians Need to Innovate

Current medical training focuses on the acquisition and application of existing knowledge. Medical students and physicians in training are assessed against rigorous standards that emphasize mastering a certain set of skills or demonstrating a high level of content expertise. Physicians in training have been taught about the 10 causes of ST-elevation on an ECG, and surgeons have been taught how mentally rehearse performing an emergency cricothyrotomy for decades.

What physicians aren’t taught is how to innovate. Most tools and technology currently in use in healthcare have been developed by non-clinicians that have capitalized on existing opportunities in healthcare. The result is that we are now in a system that is plagued with tools that are often misfits. They tend to fail at either the provider end, or the patient end. A contemporary example of such a failure is the electronic health records system (EHR) currently in use in mostly hospitals. Every physician that uses an EHR could write a book on the issues with their existing system. Every patient that has been to a hospital recently can attest to issues with access to personal health information (PHI) they struggle with, especially when it comes to complex care.

The culture of physicians innovating is by no means new or revolutionary. In fact, it has always been an essential skill set of being a physician. The first ECG machine was invented by the noble laureate and physician Willem Einthoven; the first medical application of ultrasound was pioneered by the Gynecologist Karl Theo Dussik.

It is time for us to re-learn the art of innovating, and to create a new generation of physician leaders that are driven by innovation in healthcare. We need to encourage physicians to pursue additional training in Innovation and Quality Improvement and enable residency programs to incorporate this culture change. We need to give up using pagers, and start thinking of how we can integrate smartphones into our daily practice to improve patient care. We need to shift the emphasis from the delusion of being able to ‘know everything’ and start thinking of ways to use technology to better enable us to make decisions. Yes, you still need to know the dose of epinephrine in cardiac arrest, but you certainly don’t need to memorize the immunization schedule… there’s easier ways to figure that out.


For inspiration and to get started, here’s a value resource to tap into


Here’s some examples of physicians that are leading the innovation front