HIMSS 2017: Roy Smythe on what motivates physicians to adopt new technologies

Philips' CMO Roy Smythe gave HIMSS 2017 attendees tips on how to motivate physicians to embrace new technologies.
Roy Smythe, M.D.

ORLANDO, Fla.—Roy Smythe, M.D., says healthcare organizations can encourage physicians to embrace new technologies and innovation. But here's the thing: It’s not all about the money.

RELATED: HIMSS survey--providers set their sights on quality, EHRs amid workforce challenges

Smythe, chief medical officer of healthcare informatics at Netherlands-based tech giant Philips, says innovation requires behavior change. Speaking at the two-day HX360 Innovation Leaders event at the annual Health Information Management and Systems Society conference here this week, he offered up a personal example.

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Focus on values, not compensation

In 1998 Smythe bought a first-gen e-reader for his 10-year old daughter. She read 30 print books that year. She read 15 pages on what was at the time a novel device.

He says he made two mistakes anyone working with doctors should avoid. “First, I spent a lot of money on it. Second, I was certain she was use it.”

The concept was fine—that’s step one. But most people just weren’t ready to change their behavior, he added.

“I already told you I couldn’t change my 10-year-old daughters’ behavior … it’s really hard to change an adult’s behavior unless you imprison them.” 

And throwing money (let alone more data) at physicians doesn’t work. People who do cognitive work are motivated by higher order values, including:

Task identity: When professionals can see the job and its processes from start to finish.

Skill variety: When they can learn a number of different skills and apply them to their work.

Autonomy: When they can make plans and carry through on them.

Feedback: When they’re told what the desired outcome is and how their performance measures up.

Task significance: When they believe that their work product has a positive influence on someone else.

“What physicians don’t want is data. Physicians have a job. They have a full-time job. In fact, most physicians are working at capacity or above,” he says. But they do want insights, recommendations and operational support.

RELATED: HIMSS 2017--IBM's Ginni Rometty talks trust, values in a cognitive computing era

Instill confidence with transparency

When you introduce new products, solutions and health IT services, be sure to tell clinicians what’s in it for them. And, Smythe adds, “don’t make things up.” In other words, don’t make vague promises that an initiative will make their lives better. They won't believe you, anyway. Tell them what they will gain and what sacrifices they’ll have to make.

“If you have trouble articulating the benefits of the solution, then think twice.”

RELATED: 4 reasons docs are slow to adopt evidence-based care

Pay docs what they're worth

At the end of the session, one audience member questioned Smythe on his money-isn’t-everything theory in a market where many physicians are having a hard time sustaining their practice.

The industry has decided over the last two or three decades that the way to change physicians’ behavior is incentives for positive results and penalties for negative ones, Smythe said. That might work in the short term, but it isn’t a durable solution.

“I don’t mean don’t pay them,” he added. But rather than paying them for each activity they should do and punishing them for what they shouldn’t do, “just pay them what they’re worth.” That way, they can concentrate on how they can provide more value—and not just look for what small things they can change in order to get paid more.

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