Arlen Meyers, MD and the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE)
What better way to explore the complex relationship between entrepreneurs and physicians than to talk to Arlen Meyers MD – the co-founder of a healthcare network whose core mission is bringing the two together.
Over his career, Dr. Meyers has found success in both business and medicine.
Dr. Meyer is professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE).
The Society is anon-profit global biomedical and healthcare innovation network founded to enable healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and industry stakeholders to connect and collaborate.
In our interview, Dr. Meyers discusses the physician mindset and provided a more complete picture of the motivations that drive a doctor to become an entrepreneur.
What drove you to be an entrepreneur?
Arlen Meyers MD: Anger and revenge – I have 40 years as an academic surgeon and tenured professor. Working to develop a device using optics to detect certain cancers in the mouth, I thought there had to be a better way. The collaborative approval process lacked a sense of urgency, and the academic culture was not conducive to being an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, I believe in going big or going home — not incrementalism.
Does being an entrepreneur make you a better doctor / Does being a doctor make you a better entrepreneur?
Arlen Meyers MD: I would say yes to both.
To understand the relationship between doctors and entrepreneurs, you need to understand that there are different types of physician entrepreneurs including:
- Physicians who open a private practice and do what they are trained to do to make a reasonable profit
- Technopreneurs who have a gadget, an idea, an invention, and they want to build a company, scale it and exit so they can create shareholder value
- Social entrepreneurs who are focused on improving the human condition and generating enormous profits is a secondary interest
- Intrapreneurs who are employed and their goal is to create value within their organization
- Physicians who invest in other companies
- Service providers who work with other physician entrepreneurs e.g. in business development or marketing
But regardless of what type of entrepreneur a physician becomes, they are all driven by the patient and the value they can add.
How is health tech (IT, communications) changing the way doctors practice medicine?
Arlen Meyers MD: I would lump the answer to your question into 3 categories: technology tools, the changing doctor patient relationship and the business model.
Technology, like analytics and telemedicine, are becoming as much a part of the a doctor’s practice as the stethoscope once was. Medicine is becoming more democratized, more DIY and more patient empowered. At the same time, the business of medicine is changing with a growing focus on dropping costs.
Here’s an example. Take a company that is essentially an eBay for sick people. Patients bid for certain procedures to manage costs. The technology is the internet; patient empowerment is the bid, and the business model is an alternative to fee for service. But medicine is not based solely on price but also value. Patients are generally terrible consumers. How are patients able to judge value?
It could be a great surgeon with bad bedside manner or vice versa. Technology is impacting business models but it’s still hard to validate. Digital health is a 2 sided coin. There is both good news and bad news. Bottom line: Does it add value?
What are your sources for evaluating health tech?
Arlen Meyers MD: Let’s refer to what I call the digital health innovation roadmap.
Technical feasibility – I often see entrepreneurs offering a health tech solution in search of a problem. What are the design specs and can they be verified?
Commercial validation – What is the size of market and is anyone interested in buying or using the product?
Demonstration of clinic effectiveness – Does it do what it say, and is it safe?
Adoption and diffusion in the medical community – Will it occupy shelf space in doctors in mind?
What are the challenges that physicians face in determining vendors/entrepreneurs credibility?
Arlen Meyers MD: The challenge is that each step in the decision making process is done in isolation. It’s not integrated. Physicians don’t always connect dots.
They run the risk of making what I call Type 1 and Type 2 technology adoption errors. A type 1 error occurs when physicians make a “false positive” error and uses or does something that is not justified by the evidence. Type 2 errors, on the other hand, are “false negatives” where the practitioner rejects or does not do something that represents best evidence practice.
These errors can lead to barriers to adoption that I call the the ABCDEs of technology adoption – Attitudes: Behavior: Cognition: Denial: Doctors Emotions: Economics:
Entrepreneurs need to understand that physicians like consumers buy emotionally and justify rationally.
There is also the matter of communications.
To paraphrase, engineers are from Venus and doctors are from Mars. There are both language and cultural issues. You have to reconcile that there are inherent ethical conflicts in business and medicine. Doctors are trained to put the patient first. Business is dirty. It’s not always mission driven but profit driven. Well get over it. Both sides are part science and part business.
And those in business think doctors are a pain in the @^%, egotistical, entitled, cheap and inaccessible and have no clue about business.
Education and collaboration are key where each side needs to learn the other’s language. The opportunity is to get like minded people in same room and play nice. That’s how you overcome barriers.