John Noseworthy

By Mark Campbell

In 2007, Mayo Clinic approached Dr. John Noseworthy (MD’75, PGM’78), then medical director of its Department of Development, and a team of leaders with a question: what would the world’s largest, integrated, nonprofit medical group look like in the year 2020?

“We spent almost a year looking into that,” recalls Dr. Noseworthy. “We came back and said Mayo Clinic is known for caring for the sick face-to-face – for patients coming to us. As we enter a digital world, how are we going to extend our reach to serve people who do not need, or cannot come, to see us?”

He may have answered the question with a question, but he and the team were on to something. Dr. Noseworthy, a neurologist, scientist, professor and Dalhousie alumnus, believed the digital world provided an opportunity for Mayo Clinic to curate, tailor and share knowledge in an unprecedented manner. By embracing the full potential of that technology, Mayo Clinic would not only build on its 150-year legacy of innovation in patient care and research; it would help create a more effective and cost-efficient system.

John Noseworthy
Now president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, Dr. Noseworthy has been a strong voice in the evolution of health care from traditional delivery methods to something far more dynamic. Initiatives he and his colleagues have launched are extending care into the realm of virtual and social media, and the impact has been significant. Consider the Mayo Clinic Care Network. Launched in 2011, this subscription service is delivering Mayo knowledge and expertise directly to 31 medium and large-size health care organizations in the US, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

“Eighty-five to 95 per cent of patients cared for in this network don’t have to travel to a Mayo Clinic for treatment as they did before,” says Dr. Noseworthy. “That’s good news when you consider it’s inconvenient for patients to leave their community, not to mention expensive for them and the system.”

What Dr. Noseworthy is aiming for is a higher quality, more sustainable health care system — one where knowledge is shared and everyone is engaged, from the physician to the patient. “This is about working as an integrated team to know the outcomes and achieve them at a lower cost. That’s where we need to go.”

A lifelong interest

But how did Dr. Noseworthy get to where he is today? Part of it was the inspiration of his Dalhousie professors, and part of it was the example set by his family. Growing up in Massachusetts, Dr. Noseworthy recalls accompanying his father, an Anglican minister, on hospital visits to parishioners. “I sat in the lobby and watched doctors, nurses and patients go by, fascinated by what went on behind those doors.”

That fascination would manifest itself at Dalhousie University, where he enrolled after his parents returned home to Canada. Although Dr. Noseworthy initially studied the arts, a lifelong interest in science, and a sense that service was more important than self, saw him transfer to the university’s medical school. There, he encountered what he calls the exemplars of how you lead a life as a doctor and how you teach.

“Professors such as Ross Langley (MD’57), Jock Murray (MD’63, LLD’13), Richard Goldbloom (LLD’00) and Jean Gray (PGM’71, LLD’05) — these were the people I wanted to be like because they were extraordinarily knowledgeable, great teachers and exceptional clinicians. We knew we were the best young clinicians we could be because of them.”

Dr. Noseworthy went on to specialty training in neurology, eventually joining the University of Western Ontario, where he launched a clinical research program focused on multiple sclerosis. His work there brought him to the attention of Mayo Clinic, which recruited him to establish a similar program in 1990. “I saw a patient-centred, team-based organization dedicated to advancing patient care, research and education. It felt like a great fit for me from a cultural standpoint and I left my first visit to Mayo Clinic hoping they’d offer me a job.”

John-Noseworthy-mingling_500x375Since joining Mayo Clinic, Dr. Noseworthy has taught students, consulted with patients, chaired the neurology department and served as vice chair of the Board of Governors for the Rochester, Minnesota clinic. He was also editor of Neurology, a peer-reviewed journal for clinical neurologists, taking it from a monthly to a weekly publication. “That was a huge step. At the time, the only other weekly academic, scientific-based journal was a cardiology journal, so we were reaching a very wide audience.”

Into the future

By embracing digital technology, he’s looking for Mayo Clinic to reach an even wider audience. Mayo Clinic has set a goal to develop a meaningful relationship with 200 million people annually by 2020. It sounds like something a fast food chain would aspire to, but with the Mayo Clinic Care Network, the Clinic’s social media presence and other virtual initiatives, it is within the realm of possibility. In fact, as of December 2013, the Clinic was serving 63 million patients across the United States and around the world through these channels.

Dr. Noseworthy knows delivering services digitally may seem antithetical to the spirit of health care, but he says not doing so would considerably weaken an already compromised system. “If we don’t do this, it will come down to a rush to the bottom — essentially, a highly regulated, capitated, resource-limited environment where we’re not investing in research and training. And Canada and the US would fall off the map in terms of being world leaders in this field.”As he leads Mayo Clinic into a brave new world of health care, he will continue to draw upon his Dalhousie experience and mentors to guide him.

“That was my grounding as a physician, which is terribly important to me. Dalhousie Medical School was all about learning medicine and being very good at it. It was a phenomenal foundation on which to build a career in medicine.”

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