A: What is your role at Mayo Clinic and what are your responsibilities at the Innovation Exchange?
CB: I am the Chief Innovation Officer of Mayo Clinic in Florida, medical director for the Exchange, and a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Cardiology. I view the Innovation Exchange as an important component in our toolkit for innovation on our campus. Mayo Clinic is a physician-led organization, and every physician leader has an administrative partner. It provides a unique way of leading, allowing us to balance priorities and incentives with a constant lens on the needs of the patient.
My role is to filter what we do in the Innovation Exchange through that lens, serving as an advocate for internal and external members. I mentor colleagues. We also host events. I’m most fond of our “Breakfast with an Inventor” series. I interview one of our staff members who has a track record of invention. We don’t just address the patent and technology, but dig deeper into the person and their personality traits. We walk through the challenges and obstacles they encountered and how they overcame them. This helps to demonstrate to our staff what it takes to be successful despite the demands clinical care and our “day jobs” impose, and inspire them that they can be successful, too.
A: You wear many hats. How do you balance your clinical and innovation work?
CB: It is a challenge, balancing clinical, innovation and administrative responsibilities. Innovation is a mindset. You can weave it into your daily routine – whether at the bedside, in the admin suite or in a research laboratory. But being grounded in clinical care provides a unique differentiator. It reminds us to focus everything we do on the needs of the patient. Experiencing the friction of clinical care results in meaningful innovation. If you look at a 15-year average of disclosures, with more than 600 disclosures submitted to our tech transfer office across Mayo, a remarkable 47% end up yielding some sort of commercial return. That yield is testament to the quality of the ideas. The ideas are not generated in an ivory tower. They are being generated at the coalface of clinical care.
A: As a clinician, what made you first decide to pursue the innovation side of healthcare?
CB: I was inspired by a mentor as I was just finishing my cardiology training at Mayo Clinic. Dr. James Seward—a world-renowned cardiologist and inventor—asked me if I’d like to write a patent. It opened my eyes to the possibility. Shortly thereafter, our daughter who was in elementary school at the time, was given a task to run a mile with her parents. We ran together and I discovered I couldn’t make half a mile. So, I reached out to a cardiologist colleague and suggested running together. We would talk to pass the time. After two weeks, we ran out of conversation so we said, “let’s think about problems at work and come up with solutions for how we can solve them.” Those were literally the first steps on my journey of innovation.
A: If you could use innovation and technology to solve one major issue in healthcare, what would it be?
CB: To enable access to quality healthcare for everyone across the globe. And to enable early intervention, thereby preventing the consequences of avoidable disease from happening at all. It’s not just a dream anymore. It should become a reality in my lifetime.
A: Is there one breakthrough “a-ha” moment that stands out in your career?
CB: My mother was 58 when she died of a stroke. She suffered from atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heart rhythm that can result in a blood clot and cause a stroke. Often patients with atrial fibrillation don’t have symptoms – until they present with this devastating complication. Earlier diagnosis permits treatment with blood thinners that prevent clots from forming. I thought, why not invent an atrial fibrillation “detector.” We developed a skin patch sensor called the BodyGuardian. It is a remote monitoring tool that detects atrial fibrillation and today is helping save people with atrial fibrillation from developing strokes.
A: What influence did growing up and training in South Africa have on your career at Mayo?
CB: I am was born in a town called Port Elizabeth in South Africa, which interestingly, happens to be a “sister city” of Jacksonville. Growing up in South Africa offered me a unique perspective of what it’s like to provide care in a resource-constrained environment. We have amazing privilege in the US. At Mayo Clinic, we deliver the best care to people at the very apex of the healthcare pyramid. I want to be able to provide that same caliber expertise to more people at the base of the pyramid who aren’t able to see me in my office. That’s why I find remote diagnosis and treatment so exciting. If a mother in rural Africa has a sick child with heart disease, she doesn’t know if she should leave her other children and travel for miles to the nearest hospital. But if she has a cell phone, she has immediate access to someone like me for guidance and reassurance. On reflection, it’s quite remarkable that someone like myself growing up in South Africa now finds themselves at the Mayo Clinic, with resources at their fingertips to help build technologies that will benefit people all over the world.
A: Who has inspired or influenced you in your career? What advice or guidance did that person provide?
CB: Dr. James Seward opened my eyes to the possibility of invention. That was an empowering opportunity. His guidance was, “Just do it. Don’t worry about failure. But learn from your mistakes.”
A: What do you miss most about South Africa?
CB: I have been in the US since 1994. At the time, my wife and our daughter, who was 3 then, left Cape Town and moved to Rochester, Minnesota. We lived there for 25 years, then moved to Jacksonville. All of our family still lives in South Africa. I miss our family and the earthy smell of Africa. It’s a dynamic and spicy environment with breathtaking landscapes.
A: What do you like to do outside of work? Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
CB: My wife would attest I’m never outside of work. I love what I do. Innovation and invention don’t feel like work to me. It’s a passion and I do it for fun. I think of new ideas all the time – even when I’m mountain biking in Utah or hiking on the beach. I love being outdoors and being with my family.