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Health Care is Institutionally Resistant to Technology March 9, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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That is an overarching and controversial statement, and is probably not true under all circumstances. I will only touch on a few points, based on this article in WSJ (paywall) and my own recent experiences.

The WSJ article notes a pretty complete failure of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to leverage IBM Watson AI technology to help diagnose and treat cancer.

Of course my own recent experiences include a referral to what is purportedly one of the leading cardio institutes in the country, which asked me to fill out forms using a Number 2 pencil. Like I did when I was in elementary school.  When I went to the website, there were obvious misspellings and bad grammar, including in their bragging about being a leading institution.

My doctor objected to my objection. “They don’t do their own website!”  My response:  “And they can’t even be troubled to read it, either.  If you can’t get the easy things right, it leaves a lot of doubt that you can get the hard things right.”

I see a couple of forces at work here. First, health care remains incredibly complex.  Every patient is different, and has to be treated with individuality.  (To be fair, that is not how many human practitioners treat their patients, but that is a tale for another day).  This approach may not be amenable to current machine learning endeavors.

That being said, however, it is clear that health care practitioners and institutions are rooted in routine and learned practice, and passively or actively resist new approaches. In a sense, it is sad that otherwise highly intelligent and educated people are so steeply rooted in their routines that they cannot adapt to changes for the better.

But the institutions and bureaucracies themselves force this attitude on many. It’s simply less friction to do things the way you always have, as opposed to trying something new.  And that, more than anything, is where health care needs to change.

What Should We Know About History? March 9, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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This one is from the heart, and has little to do with technology, so I apologize in advance. This starts with me commenting on what I think is a very good though rambling story on Quartz, which discusses a service to teach Millennials about basic life skills.  It notes that Millennials face different challenges than past generations, but also concludes that they must find their own ways on life skills.

I commented that as a Baby Boomer, when I graduated college, unemployment was 11 percent and inflation 17 percent, figures not seen before or since. The writer, who seems intelligent and thoughtful, was incredulous that such a state of affairs existed in our history.

We seem to have lost an historical perspective. Just a few years before my coming of age, we had gasoline shocks, where OPEC flexed its muscles and the price of gasoline increased by five-fold.  We had Stagflation.  We had WIN (look it up).  We had devastating strikes in basic industries in the 1960s.  We had companies assassinating union leaders who dared speak up.  Farther back, we had things like the Pullman Massacre and the Homestead Massacre.

There are people today with individual circumstances that you feel for. But by and large, most of us have it great.  I am highly cognizant that I have it better than most, but I am also highly cognizant of my working class roots.  It has not always been like this in my life.

I realize that news organizations are selling eyeballs, and they get eyeballs by telling people how bad they have it. It is wrong, in a strong sense.  I wish they would stop.

But this also has to deal with our perspective. Our perspective is not just today, and if it is, we are doing a disservice.  We need to tell people how they relate to events past.

If we can’t, we shouldn’t be writing about this stuff.