'Think like a dandelion' to thrive in 2024, says 1 orthopedic surgeon

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Between ever changing regulatory requirements, reimbursement models and new technology opportunities, the orthopedic and spine surgeons most equipped for change are those who can thrive in any environment. 

Joel McClurg, MD, PhD, a consultant and former orthopedic surgeon at Richmond, Ind.-based Reid Health, told Becker's what he is most proud of from 2023 and how practices can best equip themselves to survive in 2024. 

Question: What are you the most proud of from the last year? 

Dr. Joel McClurg: My proudest moments in 2023 were all related to following my North Star priorities, even under challenging circumstances. A cacophony of competing priorities all clamor for attention, like how healthcare services get paid for, the complex mix of technologies that we have to sort through, and the administrative state that now grips medicine all combine to make staying centered on our personal and professional North Star priorities all the more challenging. The new status quo in medicine appears to be a perpetual state of polycrisis. Remembering to put patients first and everything else in its proper order has helped me avoid burnout and remain sanguine in the face of these challenges. Maintaining a crystalline sense of priorities has worked for the first 20 years in practice, so I stick with it. 

Q: What are the biggest trends you're following in healthcare now? 

JM: It is difficult for physicians to follow trends when the medical knowledge base doubles every 73 days or so, and there are real questions about the wisdom of remaining in medicine. However, the trends I’m most interested in are related to total joint arthroplasty. With an aging population and new technologies affecting market dynamics, predicting the future of total joint arthroplasty and the patient burden in the years ahead is difficult. Game-changing therapies like those we are seeing in the treatment of obesity will have dramatic effects on almost all specialties. While my interest as a surgeon is in joint arthroplasty, these same market dynamics, including seismic changes in technology, the push to perform surgeries in ASCs, big data analytics and artificial intelligence, in conjunction with the glacially slow transition towards value-based medical care make it increasingly difficult for all physicians to position ourselves and our practices for future success. 

Q: What are you excited about in 2024? 

JM: 2024 will be another chaotic year full of seismic changes in who, where and how medical care is delivered. I am excited about 2024 because where there is turmoil, there is opportunity for growth and transformation. I think about people and institutions as orchids and dandelions.  Orchids thrive and are beautiful under particular conditions. They need close to ideal conditions to survive and thrive. On the other hand, dandelions adapt to thrive in adverse environments, even a parched crack in the sidewalk. We have all seen dandelions grow in the most inhospitable of places. It always reminds me to "think" like a dandelion. People and institutions that take on that mindset will be the ones that succeed in medicine in the decades ahead.

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