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Late Adopter

Mon, 07/08/2013 - 3:39pm
Bruce Campbell, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin Otolaryngologist

This article appears in the July/August issue of  Surgical Products.

I stroll into one of the operating rooms down the hall and find one of my young surgical colleagues fiddling with the XR-T9-Astro attachment before firing up the controls on the latest CJXM-533-Ultra. The back table is laden with a variety of unfamiliar sterile packs. Lights are blinking. The console emits a futuristic hum. I am jealous.

“Why haven’t I heard about this machine yet?” I whine.

My colleague cocks her head. I am pretty certain she is looking at me with a patronizing smirk, but I cannot tell because of her ventilated sterile body armor and the custom-fitted goggles.
 
“Shoo, doctor!” the circulating nurse admonishes while swatting at me. “Out! Out! Go back to your land of hemostats and retractors! Only high-tech people are allowed in here! You, sir, are a dinosaur!”

I walk glumly back to my operating room and wonder aloud what I am missing. “Isn’t my new headlight high-tech enough?” I ask.
 
“Um, Doctor, headlights stopped being cool twenty years ago.”

So they did.

I am a classic “late adopter.” I get around to trying gizmos and new products long after they have been released. I’m not a Luddite exactly, but I do need to be convinced that a new device or product will benefit my patient and make surgery simpler before I embrace it.

I guess the main problem is my pervasive skepticism of “new stuff.” I don’t need one colleague to tell me some innovation is great – I need FIVE colleagues to tell me.
 
I know physicians who are just the opposite. When I was in training, one surgeon was nicknamed “Dr. Von Gadget.” His OR was packed wall-to-wall with devices and imaging systems. He delighted in manipulating the devices and figuring out how to best apply the technology to patient care. The nurses rolled their eyes whenever he asked them to find “just a little more space” for some new machine.

Sometimes, the product representatives are the problem. Years ago, after a trial of a cumbersome and useless surgical device, the rep took the nurse aside and bubbled that I wanted the device “added to my card” so it would be open and available every time I stepped into the OR. The nurse smiled and predicted – correctly – that I would never touch the device again.

Sometimes, though, new technology is fantastic and I love it. One particular device has simplified my life in the operating room immensely. It is reliable. I don’t struggle with certain surgical maneuvers any more. Cases are completed more quickly and efficiently. Incisions are shorter. I seek out the company’s booth whenever I go to a national meeting and wring as many hands as I can find.
 
So, how can companies sell to people like me?

First, they need to know what I do. The most frequent industry and pharmaceutical contacts I receive are about devices and products that I would never in a million years find useful. That wastes everyone’s time.

Second, they must be honest. I am skeptical of statements like “All of the surgeons in your specialty at XYZ hospital are using it.” I probably know most of them. And they should not try to baffle me with jargon. I can easily discern that they know as little about the physics or biochemistry as I do.

Third, they can point me to a colleague who has adopted the new technology. There are plenty of early adopters out there. If I know the surgeon, I might call him or her and get an honest take. If they are more positive than negative, I might even give the product a try.

Fourth, they should understand the cost structure of my institution. If the device will predictably save me 15 minutes per case or get my patient out of the hospital one day earlier, they should come equipped with data that demonstrate that the disposable costs are less than the equivalent OR time or hospital stay. I refuse to generate unneeded expenses for my patients simply so I can use some cool, new device.

Finally, if I don’t use their product, they should not be offended. As a late adopter, I might come around eventually.

Change is hard for some of us. A host of wonderful mentors trained me to be a surgeon without any of the hot new products. My teachers shared their old-fashioned techniques, insights, and tricks; I have spent my entire career aspiring to be like them. I hope the purveyors of products and devices will be patient until I am finally convinced that their new gadget will allow me to accomplish what my mentors did, only just a little better. Then, I hope they can remain patient while I struggle to attach the XR-T9-Astro to the CJXM -533-Ultra without poking another hole in my glove.

Bruce Campbell, MD, grew up in the Chicago area, graduating from Purdue University and Rush Medical College. He completed an otolaryngology residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a head and neck surgery fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He has been on the faculty at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin since 1987.

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