Sept. 4, 2009— -- "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts visited the Mayo Clinic to find out more about what some people call a radically different approach to practicing medicine -- providing high-level care at a low cost.
This nonprofit medical center, headquartered in Rochester, Minn., has sites in three states with more than 3,300 physicians, researches and scientists treating more than 500,000 people each year, according to its Web site.
Its approach has attracted prominent admirers, including President Obama, who has said it provides some of the best care in the world.
"It turns out Mayo provides care much more cheaply than a lot of other health systems, even though it's better care," Obama said at a health care town hall in Annandale, Va., July 1, 2009.
Although many Americans like to believe that more is better, a study conducted by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care at Dartmouth University found that overall costs were reduced by performing only the tests that Mayo Clinic doctors deemed absolutely necessary.
While it is hard to escape the traditional thinking that running more tests equals better care, the Mayo Clinic also encourages doctors to look elsewhere for the answers.
"People who are just starting out, like us, we are more likely to order X-ray, CT, MRI, blood work, all of these fancy genetic tests that we have available," said Dr. Sylvia Jaramillo. "And a lot of times the answer is in the history."
Tune in to "Nightline" next Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009, for more on this story following President Obama's address to Congress on health care.
Inside Health Care at the Mayo Clinic
Many doctors at the Mayo Clinic are salaried employees and are not paid for the number of tests they run, the amount of surgical procedures they do or the number of patients they see.
"I'm not figuring out how do I work most efficiently to get the most out of reimbursement. I'm working most efficiently for the needs of the patient," said Dr. Dana Thompson, a pediatric surgeon.
Thompson believes she has a special bond with each of her patients because five years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was treated at the Mayo Clinic.
"I am certainly a much better physician in terms of how I'm able to approach patients and my perspective in delivering difficult information," Thompson told Roberts. "I'm light-years ahead of where I would have been."
The Mayo Clinic also attributes its success to a team approach it calls "integrated coordinated care." Doctors with different specialties work closely with one another on a patient's case and seem grateful for the extra support.
Roberts asked Dr. Todd Baron, who specializes in endoscopies, if it was encouraging that "if you don't know something you can ask. ... In other hospitals it's almost like they don't want to share information."
"It's very encouraging," Baron said.
As Obama prepares to address Congress next week on health care, the ongoing debate on health care reform is something these doctors are acutely aware of.
"Do you understand why people are a little worried that we're not going to, we, the American public, are not going to have qualified people such as yourselves wanting to get into medicine if some of the reform they are talking about is enacted," Roberts asked two interns at the Mayo Clinic.
"I actually think it's going to draw people that are interested in medicine, like Mike and myself. Because it isn't going to be money that drives us," Dr. Sylvia Jaramillo said. "We're here because we love medicine, and we want to improve health care."