Thomas J. Lynch Jr., MD, recently became CEO and chairman of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization (MGPO), New England’s largest physician practice, with more than 2,000 doctors. Dr. Lynch previously served for six years as director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Before going to Yale, the Boston native was chief of Hematology-Oncology at the Mass General Cancer Center and director of the Center for Thoracic Cancers. He first came to Mass General as an intern in 1986.
What inspired you to go into medicine?
I was struck by the profound impact physicians have in the lives of their patients.
My father was a hematologist, one of the country’s first blood doctors, so I was exposed to medicine very early. He took care of both children and adults. I was struck by the profound impact physicians have in the lives of their patients. To this day, that is something that resonates with me and confirms that I did the right thing.
As a cancer specialist, you frequently care for people facing life-changing situations. Would you mind reflecting on one who had a major impact on you?
Different cases have impacted me in different ways. There have been patients like Ken Schwartz, who founded the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. Ken had advanced lung cancer. I put him on multiple clinical trials and tried lots of different drugs but nothing really ever affected “the biology” of his cancer. However he has taught us that much of what we did for him impacted him in other more profound ways.
As Ken was dealing with end-of-life issues, he decided to write an article for the Boston Globe Magazine. He wrote about the importance of his connections with caregivers and how their humanity was more important than all their technology. The story reminds physicians and nurses to stay in the moment. It reminds you that your interaction with each patient is the most important thing they are going to do that day, that week, maybe that year and possibly their whole life.
Why did you decide to come back to Mass General?
No place meets its mission as completely as MGH. We provide outstanding patient care, lead the way in innovation and discovery and also train the next generation of doctors. MGPO physicians have a unique role and responsibility to really change the way medicine is practiced. So the chance to lead the MGPO was extraordinarily compelling and exciting.
What are your top priorities?
The missions of the MGPO and the MGH are very much tied together. We provide routine care in an extraordinary fashion and we must continue to do so. More than that, we innovate. MGPO physicians are conducting new clinical trials, changing the face of how diseases ranging from cancer to stroke to joint degeneration are treated.
But the economics of healthcare are a lot different from when my father was in practice in the 1960s. He had a part-time secretary and that was it. A typical practitioner now is supported by eight to ten people. Our costs are skyrocketing and we have reached the point where further increases are unsustainable. There is so much more involved in meeting the many missions that we have to meet as physicians. One of the key things the MGPO can do is to think about how we can create systems that allow doctors to work better. We do this because the patients have confidence that MGPO physicians and the MGH are going to keep them healthy and, when they have disease, they are going to do things to help them overcome it.
Our scientists and clinical researchers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of these advances because of the strength of Mass General’s philanthropic base.
How has the role of philanthropy changed?
Philanthropy is incredibly crucial to the mission of the hospital and the MGPO. Federal funding of research has been flat since 2004. Philanthropy fills that crucial gap. When you think about diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer, the tools we have to look at what causes them and the tools we have to design new treatments are greater than ever before. Our scientists and clinical researchers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of these advances because of the strength of Mass General’s philanthropic base.
The other key thing with philanthropy is facilities. The Lunder Building is an example of a spectacularly designed building which is meeting the needs of cancer patients and neurology patients. But we also know we are a hospital that has been here for more than 200 years. We have other facilities that are going to need replacement, updating and continued maintenance. Philanthropy plays an enormous role in that.
What is the biggest challenge the MGPO and MGH face over the next five years?
It is how we continue to innovate and improve health outcomes at a time when the economics of health care are going to make it harder to do that. We all recognize that you can’t increase the healthcare spending by 15% per year the way we were doing. Yet there are opportunities that we never had that we want to pursue to improve outcomes, opportunities in terms of science and discovery and new drugs, treatments and devices.
I couldn’t think of a better place to be to face those challenges than Mass General and the MGPO. We really have a special and unique group of people here.