Looking for Paths to Reduce Medical Errors?

Looking for Paths to Reduce Medical Errors?

By now most have read or at least heard of the recently released report that claims medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. While the statistic is certainly discouraging, unfortunately it isn’t astonishing or new. Eight years ago I read through a presentation by Tom Peters (@tom_peters) where he basically claimed the same – annual deaths from medical mistakes, misses and hospital-acquired infections is equivalent to “390 full jumbos/747s in the drink per year—more than one-a-day”. And that was based on 2000-2002 data!

What is new is our ability to take action. Medical errors, missed diagnosis and iatrogenic events are viewed as expected “human error” while infections, even with aggressive programs seem to be increasing. Yet “human error” is often a decision made based on incomplete or even wrong data. The shift towards digital health has the ability to ameliorate that cause. As healthcare providers build out their capability to capture and store information about their patients 2 things should happen:

  • Clinical staff will be able to develop a deeper and more insightful 360˚ view of the subject. With a perspective that captures not only the observed and recorded data from clinical visits, they are becoming equipped with relevant biometric and social data from across the span of the subject’s day-to-day pattern.
  • With this longitudinal approach the ability to aggregate population data in order to provide insight into “cause and effect” and the directional outcome based on detailed observations of multiple cases is created. Much like GE’s highly touted “asset performance management” where jet engines are continuously monitored – collecting a terabyte of data in a single transcontinental flight! – and then all operational and historical data is pooled to enable analysis and early trend identification, doing the same for individuals will have a dramatic impact on reducing “medical errors”.

Fortunately, the technologies to do this all exist, but unfortunately, a real challenge for providers is to see a starting point. Lacking budgets and validated results the entry point for most has been multiple pilots. These tend to provide insight into potential, but by design, they result in mixed observations – some success, some failures, and lots of questions. Most see the alternative to pilots as trying to “eat the elephant at one meal” and buy, deploy, implement, and adjust workflow for a whole new approach. Of course it is not pragmatic to make a major pivot in how an organization delivers its services, but is there alternative to the extremes of either “pilot” or full deployment?

I’d suggest that there is. If one accepts the 2 commonly agreed to premises above – that more insight can lead to better diagnosis and treatment and not only result in fewer “mistakes” but also improve outcomes, and that having aggregated cross-population data will also yield insight into better care paths and provide opportunity to for early intervention, then the obvious starting point is to begin collecting that insight. With storage costs continuing to drop and cloud applications relieving some of the burden on IT organizations, the challenge is ensuring the bedrock that this built on is sound, that the data quality, completeness and access is real.

Just as with a water delivery system, to deliver integrated care requires not just the plumbing but security that the source of what is being delivered remains reliable. For healthcare that foundation remains reliable data upon which clinical teams can depend to make decisions in a timely fashion. To improve “medical errors” post position as a leading cause of death, we need to provide clinical care providers with reliable information they can use to improve their decision making.

If you are attending Informatica World ‘16 in San Francisco the week of May 23rd I’d be happy to schedule time to hear your views on this.

And speaking of Informatica World – we have a great healthcare agenda this year with speakers from Christus Health, Cleveland Clinic, Humana, Eli Lilly, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Sutter Health and others. For the full agenda: http://infa.media/1OgTKL6

I hope to see you there!