Steve Jobs Provides Lessons for Any Medical Practice

Abstract:  Steve Jobs is inarguably the greatest inventor and creative genius since Thomas Edison.  He has provided technology that enhances communication on a global level.  Steve Jobs also provides ideas and suggestions that could work in any medical practice regardless of the size of the practice, the location of the practice, or the employment model.  His advice can be transferred from a high tech business that employs thousands to a high touch medical practice that has only a few employees. This article will list a few of Jobs leadership characteristics and how they might apply to physicians, their teams, and their practices. Wouldn’t you like to be the Steve Jobs of healthcare?  If so, read on! 

Key words: Steve Jobs, Apple computers, computers, technology, leadership, staff motivation 

We both just read the Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs was probably the greatest innovator since Thomas Edison, doing more to change technology by providing products and computers that have simplified our ability to communicate with others. Although the book paints Jobs as a ruthless and self-centered leader, he had the admiration of most of his employees and his employees were enchanted by his knowledge, his energy, his enthusiasm, and his ability to identify products that will transform lives of all of the world’s citizens.  

1. Create an organization in your office of only A-players. Get rid of the average B and C players and the riff raff. It’s a cold reality, but they are doing more damage, especially for those who have the most contact with your patients. Jobs surrounded himself with only the best. He challenged them to go beyond their potential and to create products that have changed the world. Doctors and office managers have the potential to do the same in their offices. They can challenge their colleagues and their staff to provide not just a diagnosis and treatment of their medical condition, but to provide stellar care to your patients. A players excel at teaching how to display empathy, understanding the specific needs of your senior population, and to have patience helping your patients understand their benefits. The A players can give patients a wow experience and the patients will leave happy, telling others about the outstanding care you offer. Other doctors in your practice and employees who are not able to exceed patient’s expectations need to be given two options: step up to the plate or find a new job. It is that simple. 

2. Challenge your people to take your practice to the next level. Patients get very angry when they hear “No”, "We can’t”, “Our policy says…”  or “I’ll try.”  Empower your TEAM to make decisions with patients on the spot—let them know at times it is OK to make mistakes, as it is a sign of growth. At office meetings, role-play so they understand what empowerment really means and the trust you have in their judgment and knowledge. Work on achieving what you may feel is impossible. Jobs told his engineers, “I want to get 1000 songs in my pocket.” The engineers said impossible and he encouraged them that the engineering team could do it, and they did it.  Today, millions of consumers have iPods. The same can be accomplished in your practice by setting reachable goals and give the staff the tools, the time, and the training to reach those goals. For example if you have an issue with patient waiting time, challenge your staff to come up with a solution and then listen to their suggestions even though all may feel like it is a hopeless case. If you want to expand the practice 20% when numbers have been slowly declining, do not accept that it is just not possible, put all your heads together and make a plan with small achievable marks along the way. Many goals are not made because the project looks large and intimidating, but when broken into small pieces it becomes clear that you will achieve and reach your goals.

3. Be a master of the details. Jobs wanted the inside of the computer, which no one would see, to look just as pristine and as aesthetic as the slick black, silver, or white of the outside case. Your office is no different than the inside of a computer. Your patients may not see the employee lounge, but if the lounge contains dirty dishes, a filthy microwave, or food left on the tables that tells your staff that cleanliness is not an important issue. As Herb Kellerher, the previous CEO of Southwest Airlines, once said, “If there is old food on the drop-down trays from the previous passengers, you may question how the airlines mechanics take care of the plane’s engines.”  Make every effort to pay attention to the small details, and you will find that the big details will be much easier to follow. We often say in our offices “it is the 5% that makes 95% of the difference”. Most do the 95% so opportunity for you to shine in the eyes of you patients is by doing the 5%. We recommend you hand out a sheet to all your staff and ask them what they feel are some small things you can do for your patients to make a significant difference. And for each idea they get a dollar scratch off lottery ticket. Some ideas include…       

  • Ending each visit with “What other questions do you have” and then “Thank you for coming in today and never hesitate to call with any questions.”
  • Calling every new patient the night of their visit to see if they have any additional questions.
  • Have a comment box visible to all patients but not where front desk TEAM sees so patients not afraid of adding a comment
  • Getting new patients’ e-mail and e-mailing all forms and directions to them.
  • Giving all post-op patients a bag or box of nice candy (different type of chocolate pretzels or gourmet lollipops (Linda’s Lollies Desert Gift Box at a hit. By giving this ability to give some to others and they will speak of you, great marketing and costs twelve dollars of so if you order a larger number of the Lollies Gift Box with shipping minimal per unit.
  • If patients wait too long, give them movie ticket for a local theater.
  • Go to local nail spa and ask for discount on certificates for all your employees knowing that you can send many patients to them. Give one to each employee as a thank you for dedication and if it is a male employee, give him a Starbucks certificate or equivalent.
  • Leave random notes for employees at their desk or work area recognizing something outstanding they did.

4. Create a brand that identifies easily identifies your product. His Apple stores reinvented the role of the retail store in defining a brand, a service, and outstanding products. Have a strong logo for your practice that is used on as much as possible including color coordinated scrubs for all your employees.  The uniform should always have a name tag or embroidered name. Work to have a tag line that is also used on all printed materials and other items such as “Dedicated to All Your Families Healthcare Needs.” Look at getting reusable Go Green bags ( with your logo, tag line, office address and contact information and give to all patients and when dispensing any items, such as sample medication, etc.

 5. Step outside of the box. Be a contrarian. Do what others say can’t be done. The iPhone turned mobile phones into music, photography, video, email, and web devices all contained in a device that could fit in palm of the hand. You don’t need a market study to decide if a product or service is going to work. Jobs was once asked if he did a market study on the Macintosh. His response was, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do a market study before he developed the telephone?”  

6. Look at the trend and create a game changer. Newspapers and magazines are losing readership to the Internet. The iPad launched tablet computing and offered a platform for digital newspapers, magazines, books, and videos.  Do you want to be like the newspaper or like the Internet?  You have a choice.  The status quo is going to leave you behind and playing catch up.  Catching the next wave or trend will catapult to a successful practice that you will enjoy and find challenging and exciting. 

7. Simplify. Less is more. Trying to use the computer, the cell phone, the MP3 music player, and the video recorder can be daunting especially when trying to organize your data or trying to retrieve your files. The iCloud changed the role of the computer from its central role in managing your files to letting all of your devices sync seamlessly.  How can you incorporate this into your medical practice?  Can patients come to your office and receive all of their care at one location or do they have to go to multiple locations and practices in order to receive their care?  If you can organize patient care to one place and one visit, you will become a darling of healthcare and patients will even pay a premium to have all of their care being provided at the time of a single visit. 

8. Do it perfectly. When he had a ship date for the Macintosh but the handle on the computer was not attached like Steve Jobs wanted. He sent the design team back to the table and delayed the launch for several weeks until the handle was perfectly molded onto the console of the computer.  For example, if you renovate your office and it is not perfect, then don’t see patients and post a “pardon our construction” sign hoping that patients will overlook the clutter and the inconvenience. 

9. Focus on the product and not the profit. Jobs led a company where his people were motivated to make great products. Everything else, including earnings, was secondary. Healthcare should follow his example:  Do what in the best interest of the patients; everything else is secondary. Today’s practices are led by number crunchers looking at overhead, account receivables, collections, and number of patients seen each hour. Perhaps if we looked at quality of care, patient satisfaction and outcomes, we would have very successful practices.  The formula for value is outcomes divided by cost.  Think about finding metrics to determine outcomes and measure your cost of care, which can be translated into a value number.  Those who are capable of measuring value will be attractive to insurance companies and bean counters.

 10. Become a fortune teller.  Jobs could hold his metaphorical moistened finger up in the air and magically foretell the direction of the wind, speed of the wind, when the rain would come, how much rain would come down, and when you should leave the community to get out harm’s way. He was that prescient with a magical sense of what was going to happen and how he could ride the wave of the future building products that would make the lives of everyone better. He could predict the future and knowing the changing future of medicine best to be proactive rather than reactive. We strongly recommend that all practices and office managers spend a few hours with all the doctors and employees and perform a SWOT analysis (do an Internet search to learn more about how to complete and apply to your practice). List your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Then lay out a plan to be revisit on a regular basis to secure a bright future of your practice! 

Bottom Line: We all can’t be, or perhaps choose not to be, like Steve Jobs. However, no one can deny his success and the impact he has made on technology and communication on a global level. There are aspects of his leadership style that are worth emulating in our podiatric practices and we hope that we have given you an app, i.e., appetite, for that!

  Hal Ornstein, DPM  and Neil Baum, MD