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Transform 2013: It Takes a Circus

Transform, the three-day multidisciplinary symposium unveiled thought-provoking, inspiring ideas related to health care.

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5 min read
September 11, 2013
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This week was the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation’s annual conference, Transform, and in the spirit of rethinking typical seminars, the Center live-streamed the conference—for free. While I would’ve loved to fly to Rochester, Minnesota, to attend the event in person, I must say that viewing the presentations from the comfort of my home and interacting with attendees and participants on Twitter was pretty amazing.

Moderated by award-winning journalist John Hockenberry, the three-day multidisciplinary symposium unveiled thought-provoking, inspiring ideas related to health care. According to the Transform website, “speakers do more than just present—they're also engaged and challenged. Every speaker is also encouraged to be available to participants for further discussion.” The all-star cast of speakers covered everything from rethinking emergency departments and treating violence as a disease to understanding the effects of family dinners and using graphic novels in medicine (so cool!) to increase empathy. The common themes—besides blowing my mind—focused on actionable ways to drive change within the healthcare system. Underlying themes included trust, communication, bringing healthcare to the patient, virtual communities and social media, rethinking terminology, and challenging each other to resist the status quo.

While the graphic medicine presentation appealed to the creative in me, my favorite moment of the conference was the final speech. Daniel Lamarre is the president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil. Cirque reimagined the circus, and now sells more tickets than all broadway theater shows combined. During his presentation, he explained that when you’re in show business, the show comes first. If you have a great show, you have a great business. When you have a bad show, you have no business. He went on to explain that this idea is what has driven Cirque to constantly innovate: “Every show has to be better than the last.” To achieve this, the company heavily invests in research and development as well as talent scouting. Furthermore, the Cirque team constantly:

  • challenges their own relevancy.
  • questions the best way to reach targeted audiences.
  • values emotion and relationships. "Human value must be at the core of what we do,” says Lamarre.

That got me wondering how this process might also benefit the healthcare industry.

  • How do we reinvent ourselves to constantly maintain relevancy in care, in communication, and in trustworthiness?
  • How do we ensure our marketing is on target? And more importantly, on message?
  • How do we prioritize empathy? How do we ensure humanism is at the core of treatment plans?

I admit that rehab therapists have an upper hand on the last bullet. They’re able to have more intimate relationships with patients than doctors can, and they naturally prioritize empathy and individual relationships. Still, imagine if every medical professional took this cue. On Twitter, NICU nurse @AmyHeairet asked: “Curious thought: If Cirque du Soleil created a health model, what would it look like?” That is an innovative project I’d love for the Mayo Clinic’s Center (or any other healthcare innovator) to take on!

During his presentation, Lamarre also emphasized the importance of health at Cirque. The circus is an “extreme sport,” and they’ve done everything possible to reduce risk. This attention to safety, wellness, and proper treatment has allowed them to achieve much better health stats than other professional sports. Obviously, when your talent is the key to your business’s success, you should put a massive emphasis on quality care. Still, it was great to hear him discuss their safety and wellness efforts.

Even better—he gave a much-deserved shout-out to rehab therapists! One thing that really irked me during this three-day symposium was the massive focus on physicians, and I wasn’t alone. Upon tweeting out, “While we're redefining care, can we also consider that there are more med. prof. to rely on than physicians? #PT #OT #SLP #Nurses” I received several favorites and retweets. Bernadette Keefe responded with “These professionals are integral 2 proper functioning of our healthcare system. Explore incr. expanded /independent roles.” But during Lamarre’s presentation, rehab therapists finally got some props. During the Q&A portion, moderator Hockenberry asked Lamarre about having on-staff doctors to care for Cirque’s talent, and Lamarre explained that they have amazing physiotherapists on staff, and quality rehab therapy is of the utmost importance to them.

Now, I wish it hadn’t taken the entire symposium for someone to discuss the important role of rehab therapy. Furthermore, I wish that at least one medical practitioner had sung therapists’ praises. But hey, a multimillionaire CEO of my favorite circus saying “physiotherapists” in a Quebecois accent is awesome, too.

Those are my thoughts on Transform 2013. Did you attend or watch the live web stream? What did you think of the conference? What were your key takeaways and observations?


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