Salt Lake Valley

Top of Mind 2018

Recently, I was given the chance to speak at the Top of Mind conference hosted by the Center for Connected Medicine. As the name suggests, topics centered around the big-ticket items in healthcare for 2018. As I wrestled with what to speak on, my mind kept wandering back to this past summer. I had the chance to chaperone a youth group (including a few of my own children) as they went on a camping trip/pioneer reenactment. The purpose of the trip was to help the youth get in touch with their heritage. The exercise and getting out of the house were just an added bonus.

The trip centered around the pioneers, the group of people who were forced westward in the early 19th century, due to an unfortunate disagreement over religion. These individuals braved harsh weather, dangerous creatures and wary locals in pursuit of blazing new trails and finding the best path for those they cared about the most. Though dangerous, these pioneers knew that the best future lay ahead in uncharted territory.

I began to think how this applied to healthcare. As an industry, we’re finding ourselves more and more in the frontiers of medicine. Every day it seems we’re hearing about the next technological miracle, from applied genomics to machine learning and about a dozen topics in-between. These are the paths we can take; but it is up to us to choose to pioneer those trails.

So, what does it mean to be a pioneer? I would say there are two good questions to assess your “pioneer-ness.” The first is, “have I been shot at recently?” You can be pretty sure that, in either the old west or modern healthcare, the frontier will have its share of naysayers who’d rather not see you blazing the trails you’re on. If you’re not meeting some resistance, then I would bet you’re not being disruptive.

The second question is, “are you passionate about making a change, or is this a market opportunity you’re hoping to capitalize on?” The answer to this question will largely determine if your pioneering efforts lead to hard-fought success, or mediocrity. When you leave the trail behind and begin the difficult process of pioneering, it’s passion – not greed – that will lead you to lands of promise.

When the those old-west pioneers finally stopped near the Rocky Mountains, they might’ve just strung me up and dragged me behind the wagon if I’d called the barren desert in front of them a “promised land.” But through hard work, determination and ingenuity, they transformed that landscape into a thriving community.

The opportunity for those in attendance at the Top of Mind 2018 conference, and indeed healthcare at large, is the same. We’re heading down paths unknown towards what may feel like a barren wasteland. Providers may feel they’ve been sold a mirage in the desert, an oasis that evaporates after they’ve gotten too close. But in these situations, we will see the healthcare pioneers struggle and ultimately flourish. On topics like AI, usability and population health, we already see them hard at work. I’m looking forward to the coming year, as I’m confident these passionate people will pave the way for the rest of us to follow.