7 Questions with Mayo Clinic Phoenix CEO

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The Arizona Medical Association reached out to Dr. Richard Gray, CEO, Mayo Clinic Phoenix Campus, to learn more as he begins his new role.

Can you provide some background on your time at Mayo, including the roles in which you’ve served?

In terms of my time at Mayo Clinic, I’ve always practiced at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I first came here in 1995 as a surgical resident. After a fellowship in surgical oncology as a Mayo Foundation Scholar at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, I joined the staff at Mayo Clinic in 2001 as a surgical oncologist. I specialize in treating patients with breast cancer, melanoma, and sarcoma. I served as chair of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Arizona, chair of Mayo’s Breast Specialty Council, and vice-chair of the Department of Surgery in Arizona. I’ve also been on faculty at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and, for ten years, served as program director of the General Surgery Residency Program.

What are you most excited about that Mayo currently offers in Arizona?

What I am always most excited about at Mayo Clinic is the tremendous coordination and integration of our multi-disciplinary care. That’s core to our efforts to keep patients at the center of what we do by not leaving it to them to have to reconcile the information and recommendations of various specialists or coordinate the appointments they need.

As a cancer specialist, I’m very excited about our proton beam therapy program, which we’ve been offering at Mayo Clinic in Arizona since 2016. We have tools and expertise to precisely target a tumor, meaning less radiation affecting other tissues. This is especially valuable in treating central nervous system tumors, tumors near a vital organ, and for our youngest patients.

Mayo Clinic in Arizona is the fourth largest transplant center in the nation, which is notable because our program just celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Likewise, our patient outcomes are truly remarkable, placing us at the top of or among the top-performing centers in the country for several transplant types. Our team has already completed almost 400 transplants just this year.

Finally, opening the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona was a huge milestone. I’m thrilled to continue to develop our medical education program here in Arizona, a state that is facing a physician shortage. We’re teaching doctors to think differently and equipping them with the tools they need to treat and heal patients today and well into the future.

How do you see technology impacting the future of medicine? i.e. machine learning and artificial intelligence, etc.?

Mayo Clinic actually just hosted its inaugural Artificial Intelligence Symposium in May at our Rochester, Minnesota campus, and hundreds of staff attended. We expect AI to help improve every part of patient care, including patient scheduling, billing, supply chain management, accurate diagnoses, individualized health predictions and more.

From the clinical side, we’re interested in how AI and machine learning can enhance human intelligence, not replace it. Some examples already in use at Mayo Clinic include:

  • Using algorithms to seamlessly match patients with clinical trials. This forwards both our patient care and medical research.
  • Transforming the way physicians report and diagnose cardiac disease using ECG. A Mayo Clinic research team has found that, compared to experienced techs and cardiologists, AI-enhanced ECG interpretation is better at finding important patterns hidden in plain sight. And through machine learning, a signature pattern was identified that identifies patients with or at imminent risk of heart failure.
  • Using machine learning to better identify when hospitalized patients are at increased risk of death. An algorithm developed by Mayo Clinic researchers combines clinical expertise, nurse assessments and a machine learning model that incorporates historical data. This system reduced the time to a therapy order for patients at risk by 50 minutes and has been implemented in several inpatient units at Mayo Clinic.

How does Mayo Clinic demonstrate innovation currently through the care/treatment provided here in Arizona? Could you provide some examples?

Mayo Clinic has a long history of innovation, and the work of our team in Arizona is no different. We have a wonderful tradition of research and clinical trials that are bringing innovative new solutions to our patients every day.

We opened a new, two-story addition to Mayo Clinic Hospital in Arizona this spring. It contains three new operating rooms, with several highly sophisticated image-guided surgical tools all brought into a single space. For example, MRI integration allows assessment of tumor margins during the operation or even performing select complex procedures entirely within the MRI mechanism. These operating rooms can be used to treat so-called “inoperable” tumors, as well as complex vascular problems. In a process innovation, the MRI integration is not only with the operating rooms but also with a diagnostic radiology space as well so the MRI scanner can be used for traditional diagnostic applications when not in use in the OR. While other hospitals have some of this equipment – including Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester – this is the first time the technology has been configured in such a way in an operating room in North America.

We also benefit from research and innovations at our medical centers in Florida and Minnesota. If a technique, technology, procedure or policy improves patient care and experience at another site, it won’t be long before it’s implemented here. The collaboration and teamwork between physicians and staff at all our centers certainly set Mayo Clinic apart.

How do you see Mayo Clinic utilizing technology to improve healthcare in the next 5 years? 10 years?

First, we don’t integrate the latest technology for its own sake – it’s about improving patient experience and patient care. What is best for our patients? That question drives all of us at Mayo Clinic.

I’m excited about some of the digital connections that we’ll be able to provide for our patients in the future. People can access our quality, patient-centric care more easily without traveling for every visit. For instance, were increasing our virtual visits to increase convenience and accessibility and in the next few years, we’ll be able to use remote monitoring to check in on a patient’s status from the comfort of their home. We plan to have digital platforms to help match patients with the right diagnostic choices, the right treatment plans, and the right clinic trials no matter whether the source is Mayo Clinic or others.  We can broaden our impact on patients around the country and around the world.

Across the organization, there is exciting research in areas like CRISPR technology, which is being used in clinical trials to edit parts of genes that cause diseases like Parkinson’s and some kinds of cancer. This technology will revolutionize medicine in the next five to ten years.

We’ve just embarked on a facility expansion project that will double the size of the Phoenix hospital campus in the next five years. We will build-in the ability to deliver the best in patient-centric care, and the technology that can help us do that. We’ll have AI and machine learning-enabled tools to help patient experience by enhancing their efficient flow through our new emergency department, our operating rooms, and the entire continuum of care. We’ll have similar tools to predict and prevent complications or patient safety events. We’ll also do things like simplifying the patient check-in process, scheduling coordination, and bring more moments of joy to our patients, their families, and our staff.

The Arizona Medical Association and Mayo Clinic have a great long-standing relationship. What has you most excited about the partnership between the two organizations?

Mayo Clinic is proud of its long-time support and engagement with ArMA, especially with our shared goals of advocating for physicians and patients. I’m excited that so many of our physicians are actively involved in ArMA’s policy committees because that’s where the proactive advocacy ideas start. We can point to many successes over the years: telemedicine coverage parity, medical licensure compact, GME funding, and health plan credentialing to name a few. ArMA, like Mayo Clinic, approaches the policy issues the right way, by focusing on what’s in the patients’ best interest, what’s scientifically valid and proven in clinical effectiveness.

There is always more work to be done in health care public policy, but I’m confident that with ArMA’s leadership and Mayo’s active participation, we can continue to make major policy improvements at the state level.

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine’s first class is beginning their third year of medical school. How is Mayo Clinic teaching future physicians about the newer technologies being implemented in healthcare? Is the school using any particular innovative approaches to prepare the next generation?

We’re training the workforce of the future, so as new technologies enter health care practice, we ensure our students gain experience using them. At Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, we’re introducing new curriculum and opportunities to use emerging technologies all the time. Things like 3D printing in medical practice, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics – our students gain exposure to all of them. As one specific example, we’re really pleased to have an Anatomage Table, which allows students to virtually walk through the human body.

Because Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine is actually one national medical school with three campuses, no matter which campus a student attends, he or she can learn from faculty across the entire institution. They can observe surgeries remotely, or travel between the campuses. That really expands their opportunity to interact with cutting-edge research or techniques that interest them.

Two innovative approaches that aren’t related to technology but to the future of health care delivery:

  • Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine collaborated with Arizona State University to develop the Science of Health Care Delivery certificate which every medical student will graduate with after four years of specialized training. Our students not only learn hard science and receive clinical training, but this certificate teaches them to identify and eliminate barriers to delivering the best patient care. These barriers have not been addressed in traditional medical school, and range from population and person-centered care to health policy, technology, and leadership. Looking ahead as we envision health care delivery changing, this education will be increasingly relevant.
  • We’ve integrated well-being and resiliency skills into our curriculum. Physician burnout is an industry-wide issue. If we can help students learn a positive means of managing the pressures of medical school, they can take those skills on into their careers as clinicians. That’s not something that’s traditionally been part of medical school education but is clearly important for the health and wellbeing of tomorrow’s doctors.


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