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Are You Too Old to Innovate, Doctor?


Technology adoption is notoriously slow in the healthcare field. Are aging doctors to blame?

The other day I went to renew my driver's license. I am over 65. Therefore, the fellow behind the counter asked me to put my glasses on and read the top line. I passed.

I asked him whether he thought there would come a day when they would be testing eye-hand coordination or reaction time in people who are above a certain age. His response: "I wish we could on my 91 year old father".

Many are having the same concerns about their physician or surgeon.

There are roughly 750,000-900,000 practicing docs in the US. More than 99,000 US physicians ages 70 and older had an active license to practice medicine in 2014. Not all are actively practicing. Many are advocating mandatory retirement when doctors reach a certain age.

I also have concerns about whether older doctors and hospital CEOs are too old to innovate. The research seems to indicate they are.

We should want to know the answer because:

1. Technology adoption and penetration and adherence to clinical practice guidelines are notoriously long in sick-care and senior laggards might be disproportionately contributing to the problem. We need more research to find out.

2. Every now and then a black swan creates something amazing in the later stages of life.

3. Mandatory retirement sacrifices clinical judgement, wisdom, and institutional memory when we seem to need it most.

4. There are many ways for “the old and the grumpy” physician entrepreneurs to contribute to creating patient-customer defined value other than actively practicing.

5. Life expectancies, at least for white people who live in certain areas, like most doctors, are increasing and many are still productive, however we measure productivity.

William Osler thought any doctor over 60 should be chloroformed. Digipreneurs think the solution to digital health adoption is to just to wait for all us Boomers to die.

Accepting, embracing, and creating change is a mindset. You see it in every age bracket from kids to their grandparents. Be careful we don't throw both of them out with the bathwater.

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