Dr. Alan Pitt is the attending physician and professor of neuroradiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. Barrow is one of the largest centers of excellence for neuroscience in the nation. He is also the Chief Medical Officer at Avizia.
Avizia is a telehealth company that is redefining healthcare with the only end-to-end telehealth platform that combines industry-leading video devices, care coordination software, provider collaboration apps, direct to consumer patient apps, and a video infrastructure in the cloud. With solutions found throughout 29 states, 36 countries, and 7 of the top 10 U.S. hospitals, Avizia is enabling continuity of care by connecting any provider to any patient in any place.
So tell us a little about your background and how you ended up on your current career trajectory?
My father was an academic radiologist. Growing up that had some influence on me. When it was time to get serious about my career I decided to attend Stanford University. It was there that I focused on oncology and received my undergraduate degree. While in medical school at the University of Arizona I went to Sweden for a research fellowship.
While in Sweden, I realized that oncology wasn’t for me and made the decision to move into the field of neurosciences. In medicine there tends to be this idea of the “Triple Threat,” being a clinician, a researcher, and also a teacher. So I figured I’d be able to do all these things with Neurology as a clinical subspecialty. Being a very procedurally minded person I quickly learned that this field was not really the best fit either. It was by true exploration and a period of trial and assessment that I found the focus that really seemed right for me – radiology.
I completed my four year radiology residency at UT Southwestern in Dallas, and then moved into neuroradiology. In neuroradiology I had a mix of diagnostic opportunities via MRI and CT as well as procedures. Early in my career I focused on spine intervention, and built out one of the broadest practices in the West.
What led you to an interest in the use of technology to deliver healthcare?
I’m a Professor of Neuroradiology, which means I look at images of the brain and spine. Well, in the 1990s there was a big change, transitioning from film to digital images. This is when Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) began to emerge. Fortunately I was in the right place at the right time as everything was moving towards computers and I was able to get a real sense of the impact using technology could have on the medical field. I was also fortunate that I had people around me who understood the importance of this.
Fast-forward to 2004 where I started to get interested in how we could use computers for full virtual patient encounters, not just digital imaging. I started asking myself and others, “What would it be like to actually care for patients using computers, and not just using computers to display pictures?” This question led to more questions and my interest in technology and Collaborative Medicine has only continued to grow. I consider myself lucky to have the ability to execute on my ideas and work to build a useful product that enables better patient care.
How did you come to work with Avizia?
When I was doing my research in Sweden, there was a guy named Klas Wiman who was a few years older than me. I asked him if he ever missed not taking care of patients. He said, “You know Alan I do occasionally, but when I was doing so, I could only help two to five patients a day. As a scientist I can impact the lives of thousands.” Klas worked with developing HLA immune therapy, and his research changed the lives of many people.
That always stuck with me. One can only do so many things, you have to choose what to do with your time, and understand what has the largest impact. So when Avizia came to me in 2014 looking to build quality, relevant telemedicine solutions that would add real value for hospitals, physicians and patients, it seemed like a good way to accomplish this. What really struck me about the company was the opportunity to codify the cultural aspects of healthcare with modern technological tools. One of our core competencies lies in understanding healthcare communications, providing more communication with those who matter.
I officially joined the team as Chief Medical Officer in 2014 and I’m really proud of the work we are doing and the technology we deliver around the world.
Where do you see the future of the Healthcare Industry headed?
This is one of the most transformative times in medicine, probably since the 1960s when President Johnson introduced Medicare and Medicaid. Now with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), roles are changing dramatically, and many medical students don’t realize this is the case.
The ACA requires a shift from getting paid for doing things (volume) to getting paid for accomplishing things (value). Young doctors today have a vision of practicing medicine like they see on Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s an idealized version of healthcare.
Traditionally, physicians are very involved in care. In the future, physicians will be much more involved in the management of the people providing care. This way of thinking is going to be necessary to sustain the economic future of healthcare.
I like to think of this transition in terms of a pyramid, beginning with the thousands of patients at the base, and then moving up each level of skill in the pyramid. Physicians of the future are going to have to figure out what role in the pyramid they will play to provide value. They probably won’t be the ones directly in front of the patient providing counsel. Instead they will be the ones managing the people treating the patients, and providing advice and guidance to those people.
In the future physicians are also going to need to think of their Social Presence and what that looks like. What does their brand look like? You can be nice, smart, and hard-working and that’s great, but by virtue of being a physician it is already an assumption that you are all of those things. What else are you bringing to the table? What else do you bring to your practice that differentiates you; what value can you offer?
As doctors, we tend to neglect those skill sets that many of us had before entering medical school. Lots of physicians have done very interesting things in their lives, and many times they let those skills wither and die. Some were previously in IT, some studied economics, and others may have policy backgrounds. These skills can be very helpful in creating that differentiation.
It’s important as future leaders to think about the things you might bring to the table that would really matter.
What advice would you give to those currently seeking careers as physicians?
Today’s medical students live in very interesting times. It is both a blessing and a curse. Traditionally, the idea of value-based care has seemed very scary, but as conventional roles start to go away, new ones will emerge, and students need to start looking for those. Medical students and residents need to start looking for opportunities to act as a bridge. Insurers, hospital systems, vendors, and patient are all looking for value and for care delivery differentiation.
For those who are able to understand this and identify these opportunities, it is a great time. But for those who decide that they just want to do what everyone has done before, they may find themselves relegated to roles they did not foresee themselves in when they went to medical school.
Many young physicians have a conventional view of what their careers are or will be. They are preprogrammed and headed down a road where they think they know how to proceed, and so they simply go and do that. I encourage them to think broadly about how to be a change agent. How they’re going to deliver value in the future, and develop their education and experiential skills as they move forward. If future physicians think to themselves that they’re just going to go to medical school, complete their residency, and get a job, they will be run over.
However, if they can recognize the changes that are coming and prepare themselves with quality education and develop a unique set of skills, they’ll be able to have a real voice. For those folks there will be great opportunities.