Life is Short, the Art Long. Why Doctors Love Apple.

03 November 2011

Editor’s Note: Jeff Tangney is Doximity’s CEO.

Epocrates, a company I co-founded, was one of four apps Steve Jobs chose to present on stage during the AppStore launch back in 2008. He told us his own doctor wouldn’t switch to an iPhone unless it had Epocrates. This lucky bit of customer research gained us admission to a round-the-clock three-week code-a-thon inside a guarded Apple conference room. After successive cuts, only four of the 12 companies invited made it to the Apple stage. Through it all, no one worked as hard as Steve. He sweat the details, the demo’s, the script; left emails and voicemails at all hours; and somehow got us to work harder than we ever had, for free. It was, to use a much-debated term of late, genius.

Last week, Steve Jobs’s biography was officially released, and with it, a second round of well-considered articles about Jobs and his legacy. It has launched a rich, detailed, almost “too soon” debate about Jobs as a man and how we have come to define genius in this day and age. Here at Doximity (an Apple fanboy shop if there ever were one), our head of design has already joked that after reading Isaacson’s biography, he will now scream, swear and then cry to get his way because “it’s what Steve would do.”

Isaacson’s biography concludes that history will place Jobs in the “pantheon right next to Edison and Ford.” I don’t think that’s the right place. Edison and Ford were brilliant engineers and shrewd businessmen who built incredibly functional life-changing products. But they weren’t artists. And while Jobs was an enormously effective engineering manager, he was not an engineer. He was a businessman first and an artist at heart. His genius rose from creating art–elegant design, playful flourishes, indeed happiness–out of other’s great engineering.

Physicians have always disproportionately favored Apple products. At Epocrates, our physician users were four times more likely than average to have a Mac. At Doximity today, iPhone users outnumber Android three to one while Android leads iPhone in overall market share. Overall, seventy-five percent of US physicians own not just a tablet or smartphone, but specifically some sort of Apple device. Most chalk this up to the many years physicians spend in academia, where Apple’s share is higher. But I have an alternate theory: physicians appreciate art.

Hippocrates said it best: “life is short, the art long.” Medicine is an art. It is rooted in science and utilizes the latest engineering, but healing is both complex and subtle. It draws in those with an appreciative eye, an intuitive aesthetic sense. From Hawkeye Pierce to House MD, our pop culture lionizes gutsy individualists as physicians, and with good reason: doing the best for your patient sometimes means breaking the rules. If Andreas Gruentzig, a German cardiologist, had followed the rules, we wouldn’t know that catheters unclog arteries.

In this sense, Jobs was the ultimate physician. He healed our technology pains. He broke the rules, creating new products that not only functioned mechanically, but also displayed the subtle vigor and glow of a healthy patient. And on a subconscious level, I think, physicians appreciate that symmetry more than most.

As a person, Jobs put nearly all of his individual self into his professional work. Like many physicians in practice today, his personal life was public and his public life personal, not so much in the tabloid way we’re used to seeing those words, but through his pride in and personal attachment to his work.

It is then doubly ironic that he was such a poor healer for himself. Our sadness is mainly for ourselves, Steve. You had so much more to give us.


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