Gawande: Connect data to real-world practice to improve healthcare

Simply gathering mounds of data won't improve healthcare, Atul Gawande, M.D. points out in a recently published interview with O'Reilly Radar's Alex Howard. That requires connecting the data to practice in the real world.

Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a medical school professor at Harvard Medical School, and best-selling author, perhaps is best known for his long-form articles at The New Yorker, the most recent suggesting that healthcare take a lesson in standardizing best practices from the Cheesecake Factory.

"My concern all along is that data needs to be meaningful to both the patient and the clinician," Gawande told Howard. "It needs to be able to connect the abstract world of data to the physical world of what really happens, which means it has to be timely data."

Technology plays a role, he said, but in the end, it's a matter of using the data to better coordinate care.

"Fundamentally you're talking about making teams that can go from being disconnected cowboys in care to pit crews that actually work together toward solving a problem," he added."In a football team or a pit crew, technology is really helpful, but it's only a tiny part of what makes that team great. What makes the team great is that they know what they're aiming to do, they're very clear about their goals, and they are able to make sure they execute every basic thing that's crucial for that success."

One of the problems Gawande said he sees with regard to the increased reliance on technology is a basic lack of understanding among vendors about the complexity of tasks that healthcare workers undertake in their daily work. That's a topic that a Danish research paper recently addressed, suggesting that video observation could be an effective way to bridge that chasm.

Despite the concerns about privacy and poor data sharing, Gawande said he sees this information as not only being key to providing better care, but also to enlisting behavior change in patients.

"It turns out that change requires the psychological nuance of presenting the information in a way that provokes the desire to actually do it," Gawande said. "We're at the very beginning of understanding these things. There's also the same sorts of issues with clinician behavior--not just information, but how you are able to foster clinicians to actually talk to one another and coordinate when five different people are involved in the care of a patient and they need to get on the same page."

To learn more:
- read the interview

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