Recently I heard an interview with Dr. Frank Veith, vascular surgeon, medical pioneer, author, lecturer and founder of the famed VEITHsymposium for Vascular & Endovascular Issues, Techniques and Horizons. “VEITH,” as it is fondly known, is an annual meeting of vascular and interventional specialists now in its fourth decade. I confess that my initial reaction years ago upon hearing of a surgeon who named a symposium after himself (acronym notwithstanding) was that he must have a pretty big ego. The interview I heard recently taught me otherwise, and I learned once again what I too often forget: Never assume.
This month, two seemingly disparate events converged: the Archives of Surgery released a special report on suicidal thought rates among surgeons, and I began reading Better, the 2008 book by Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, bestselling author and writer for The New Yorker.
The Archives special report shared the disturbing news that surgeons have suicidal thoughts more than twice as often as the general population. Gawande’s book, which is subtitled A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, adds insight to why this might be so.
Last week, one of my heroes, Paul Farmer, received an extraordinary distinction from Harvard University. Farmer, the Harvard physician-anthropologist whose medical-crusading work in Haiti, Peru and Russia was profiled by author Tracy Kidder in the 2003 bestseller “Mountains Beyond Mountains“, was appointed to a university professorship. Only 23 of Harvard’s 12,000 faculty members hold university professorships, the school’s highest professorial distinction.
Talk about innovation. I took my son, Danny, and his friend, David — both diehard car aficionados — to the New England Auto Show last weekend, and there they were: the Aston Martins, the Ferraris, the Lamborghinis, the Maseratis … along with the usual complement of German, American, Swedish and Japanese brands. Top gear all the way.
I gave presentations on both U.S. coasts this week, and if my experience is any indication, measuring marketing results is top of mind as this economically troubling year draws to a close.
Last March, at the annual meeting of the American Assn. of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), our agency introduced an interactive communication concept called augmented reality. Much easier to do than to describe, augmented reality creates a virtual display of a physical environment on your computer screen that you can alter (or augment) by shifting a cue card-type graphic image in front of your webcam. You’re able to guide movement and sounds, kind of like pretending to be Steven Spielberg. It’s fun. We used the technology to let surgeons view new devices and implants three-dimensionally right on their smartphones—an innovative way of displaying innovative products.
Taking a break during a recent business trip in Japan, we were sitting in the rock garden of Ryoanji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto. Created in the 15th century, Ryoanji boasts one of the world’s most famous Zen gardens; its 15 stones are positioned so that two or three are always hidden from view. The lesson is that no one is ever able to see everything all at once. There is always more than — literally — meets the eye.
Hirooka-san, our guide and a self-described Buddhist, explained this to us and then asked me, "So … are you enlightened?"
"I understand now why this garden is so special," I offered.
The otolaryngologist had completed his short examination of my nasal cavities. It had been 10 days since he had surgically altered my deviated septum so I could breathe and taste and sleep like a normal-nosed person. Routine work for him, big deal for me. Things were looking good, my surgeon told me, and we discussed how the surgical site would heal over time — for, barring any complications, we would never see each other again.
"Any other questions?" he asked as he began to gather his things: My index-card-sized medical file as well as something I’d never seen in a doctor’s office — an iPad.
"How do you like the iPad?" I nodded toward it.
"Ellen" from Cambridge Who’s Who was delighted that I had finally called back after leaving me seven polite and identical voice messages the past few weeks. And, after a three-minute interview during which she established that I’ve been doing what I do professionally since the second Reagan administration, Ellen had wonderful news for me.
This week’s announcement that Merck is closing its research lab here in Cambridge, Mass., is a close-to-home reminder that hard times are still very much upon us. In the device world, budgets have been trimmed and head counts reduced. Customers are delaying or scaling back new purchases, especially for capital equipment. Physician interaction guidelines have been tightened. So … are you still having fun? Before you grab a life preserver and head for the ocean, here are seven reasons to stay with medical device marketing, despite the heady allure of, say, the oil industry.
My 16-year-old son and I were driving through the Utah desert last week, embarking on the last leg of eight days in the Southwest to see canyons and other attractions we New Englanders get out of Dodge once in a while to see. We’d been on the road for several hours.
"Dad, where are we staying tonight?"
"Don’t know, Grasshopper. I’m sure we’ll find someone happy to take our money for a room between here and the airport, which is a good 300 miles away."