Dr. Mike Roizen – the MDigitalLife Interview

Posted by: in Global Healthcare, Healthcare Insights, MDigitalLife, Medical Communications on February 8, 2012

#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized.  You can find previous posts here.

“When we see something wriggling in the grass, we run – even though it’s usually a garden hose and not a snake.”

Dr. Mike Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, describing humans’ physiological reactions to threats and to pleasure

Dr. Mike Roizen has been one of America’s most advanced thinkers in health for a long time. His resume would be impressive if it’d been achieved by ten doctors – and it’s hard to imagine how one man could be so accomplished. Here are a few highlights – from my perspective:

  • Phi Beta Kappa at Williams; Alpha Omega Alpha at UCSF School of Medicine
  • Completed Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health with Irv Kopin and (Nobel Prize winner) Julius Axelrod
  • Past chair of an FDA advisory committee
  • Former editor for 6 medical journals
  • Published more than 165 peer-reviewed scientific papers, 100 textbook chapters, 30 editorials and four medical books (including a medical best-seller) and holds 13 patents
  • Co-founder of RealAge
  • Author of the RealAge series of bestselling health books
  • Co-author with Dr. Mehmet Oz of the bestselling YOU books (e.g., YOU: The owner’s manual) … in the process unseating Harry Potter on the bestseller list twice
  • Named Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic – the first such position at a major american healthcare institution
  • Editorial Advisory Board member for Health and Wellness at (WCG Client) Sharecare.com

And he’s accomplished all of that (keep in mind, that’s an abbreviated list) by age 66. Even more impressive when you learn that his RealAge is 45.4!

But let’s come back to the garden hose disguised as a snake. The place where Dr. Roizen’s work has really blown people away is that he has begun to identify solutions for what is perhaps America’s biggest health problem: We’re physiologically drawn to pleasure – eating or smoking, for instance – and we get immediate pleasure with no perceived immediate consequences. RealAge proved to be a revelation because it helped us to understand – in a fun and entertaining way – the more immediate consequences of our health decisions. In other words, he started to give us the tools to overcome our nature.

The real trick, Dr. Roizen discovered, is not only to give immediate feedback about behavioral consequences, but to couple it with ongoing feedback to reinforce that behavior change over time. The way that our health system is set up today makes it truly difficult for doctors to provide the kind of ongoing support that people need. According to Dr. Roizen, Americans experience double the prevalence of chronic disease as Europeans, and four times that of Asians and Latin Americans. And we’ve begun to reach the point that we’re unable to manage that degree of need, even if we make today’s system really efficient – which is where digital solutions come into play.

Through the course of our conversation, Dr. Roizen told me something that has really stuck with me.  We all know that a person’s social networks can have  deep impact on their health (e.g., Fowler and Christakis’ bestseller, “Connected”).  But Dr. Roizen pointed out that doctors are (or should be) a part of an individuals’ health ecosystem too … as role models.  A recent study cited in NPR’s “Heavy Doctors Avoid Heavy Discussions about Weight” serves as a powerful example of that effect.  Since patients have clearly taken to digital means to better understand their health, as well as to seek encouragement and support, it’s critical that doctors are able to role-model that kind of digital behavior.

“The problem is that we’re trying to reverse our lifestyle diseases with non-lifestyle-based treatments.”

Dr. Mike Roizen

Dr. Roizen believes that the key to getting ahead of the chronic disease trend is to help doctors scale – radically – their ability to communicate effective health coaching to their patients. One of the many roles physicians play is to guide their patients to more valid information sources. Over the past several years, a truly novel solution has evolved, in part through Dr. Roizen’s longtime association with the Cleveland Clinic. This solution, known as Enforcer eCoaching (see a reference here, Staying On Program: Top News and More) allows doctors to send relevant content to their patients at a grand scale – up to 1,500 patient communications per day, according to Dr. Roizen.

“The key is that the communications have to be relevant,” he explained. “They have to feel high touch.”

At its most basic level, the system works like this:

  • Doctors leverage a library of content – to which they can add – as the basis for patient communications.
  • As patients submit questions and feedback, the Enforcer algorithm selects relevant modules of content for the doctor to send to the patient.
  • The doctor reviews and tweaks the patient message, then sends it to the patient – “nudging” them to keep up with their prescribed healthy behavior for the day.

While still in the early stages as a company, the Enforcer methodology has already shown impressive results. According to Dr. Roizen, 75% of the smokers who’ve enrolled in the tobacco cessation program and tried to quit have done so successfully for six months (the time of the study). And in the weight loss program, the average 6-month result has been 38 pounds lost. It’s no surprise that the patients who’ve experienced these results have been overwhelmingly positive in their feedback.  For now, the Enforcer eCoaching program is targeted at corporate customers – but we’ll be following its growth and development with interest.


Over the last 20-30 years in America, it feels as though we’ve looped the physician out of the health ecosystem in favor of the payer, the patient, and the business of providing care.  If we’re to make a real dent in our healthcare crisis (crises?), it’s time to make sure that we’re not just building around the patient – we need to build around the doctor-patient relationship.  And by creating a means for doctors to be role models – at scale – Dr. Roizen is setting a powerful example.

Staying connected to Dr. Roizen couldn’t be easier.  In addition to his radio program and frequent appearances on the Dr. Oz show, you can find him online here:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/YoungDrMike

Sharecare Profile: http://www.sharecare.com/user/dr-michael-roizen

Dr. Oz’ Blog Posts: http://www.doctoroz.com/expert/mike-roizen-md

Huffington Post Blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-roizen-md

The “You Docs” Blog on RealAge: http://www.realage.com/blogs/doctor-oz-roizen/


By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

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2 Responses

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  1. What a great list of accomplishments. Love to see great people working to change the world of medicine. Some parts that stood out to me:

    “The real trick, Dr. Roizen discovered, is not only to give immediate feedback about behavioral consequences, but to couple it with ongoing feedback to reinforce that behavior change over time.”

    “Dr. Roizen believes that the key to getting ahead of the chronic disease trend is to help doctors scale – radically – their ability to communicate effective health coaching to their patients.”

    Look forward to seeing more awesomeness from Dr Roizen.

  2. Thanks, Mike! I was lucky enough to be able to work with Dr. Roizen for a bit while I was working in Humana’s Innovation Center … we sponsored his syndicated radio show & also shared many of his “YOU: The Owners Manual” series of books with our members. If a health insurance company is willing to make that kind of investment, you can bet that they believed in the power of Roizen’s approach to really change health behavior.

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