In Selling MD Anderson, Successive Presidents Have Lost Track Of The Product

By

Leonard Zwelling

In her op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, May 7, Maureen Dowd notes how Steve Jobs of Apple never lost track of the need to make great products, not just sell them.

She quotes the great man:

“The product sensibility and the product genius that brought them to that monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product versus a bad product. They have no conception of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts usually about wanting to really help the customers.”

I was astonished when I arrived at MD Anderson in 1984 how great a product was inherent in all of the activities I encountered. But above all else, it was the dedication to the individual patient with cancer that so separated MD Anderson from all other providers of cancer care in the world with which I had interacted.

That’s gone. Or if it is still present—prove it!

When MD Anderson was largely the only game in town and the only real cancer center of note between Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis and LA, even if it wasn’t the best at everything, who could argue? No one. There was no one to argue the case that MD Anderson was anything but number one.

Now things are much different. There are all kinds of providers of cancer care in Houston and Texas and MD Anderson has chosen to compete in cities and towns far afield from the Lone Star State. It is no longer the only game in any town. That really should be of no concern since MD Anderson provides better care. Or so it says. But does it?

No one really knows. Cancer care is not like an iPhone and readily assessed as to its quality and unique utility by even the most inexperienced of users as a cell phone is. Yet, there is no way to assess the relative chances of your survival once you or a family member receives the dreaded diagnosis of cancer at MD Anderson versus Cancer Treatment Centers of America or any place else. That’s inexcusable.

By now, with the huge expense of the electronic medical record, proton therapy. robotic surgery and more forms of chemotherapy than the three witches in Macbeth had potions, MD Anderson ought to know what it does better than anyone else and what it does not and it should be competing on quantifiable quality not on talking heads and silly red lines through the word cancer. That’s all marketing.

Exaggeration of excellence a la Donald Trump is no way to run a major cancer center. When the Regents go looking for a new president of MD Anderson, let’s hope they focus on someone who has a concept of cancer care craftsmanship and not another wonk from a lab in the northeast.

If MD Anderson is really the best, it ought to be able to prove it. And if it looks like it is not the best, the job of the new leadership is obvious. Get back!

Leonard Zwelling