Thursday, May 5, 2016

No safety net

Recent research from Johns Hopkins (1) suggests there are over a quarter of a million deaths in the US per year due to medical errors. It is a sobering observation that future generations will look back on with anguish and perhaps, incredibility.  At the height of technology, we are slipping, not because of lack of know-how, but rather, lack of application. One preventable death is too much and the fact that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US, is immensely troubling.

Unfortunately, technology does not solve problems. Bigger data and faster computers are likely irrelevant if they cannot fundamentally influence decision processes and allow information flow to enhance decision quality. It is not about precision - there is no such thing - but a systematic use of all available information at the point of decision. Further, the human brain, with its inherent limitations, is unable to minimize downside risk in a regime of high utilization and volatility. A loss of life, a traumatic and life changing event for any healthcare provider, looms high but the environment simply does not allow anything more than what is tactically possible. The lack of a safety net below cascading, complex and error-prone processes suggest the need for a sudden and impactful change that most technology companies are unable to help with.

It is high time that healthcare embraced practical applications of available technologies to improve patient health and welfare.