Written by: John Lynn
The following is a guest blog post by Carrie Yasemin Paykoc, Senior Instructional Designer at The Breakaway Group (A Xerox Company). Check out all of the blog posts in the Breakaway Thinking series.
Healthcare providers are faced with a two-pronged challenge of satisfying government regulations and being profitable within a competitive and dynamic marketplace. Organizations that prosper take advantage of what’s going on in Washington and offer innovative products and services to their patient population. At the forefront of healthcare innovation is utilizing data from Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to provide better and more affordable care while preventing medical errors.
The November edition of United Airlines’ Hemisphere magazine highlighted several leading American hospitals that demonstrate innovative approaches to healthcare. The article addresses legislative pressures that hospitals face and the need for transparency as patients seek the best treatments and services across larger geographical boundaries. Many of the top performing hospitals utilize consultants outside of healthcare to obtain fresh perspectives and remain competitive. At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Dr. John Perentesis, co-director of the Cancer and Blood Disease Institute, shares collaboration with “…consultants in the airline and nuclear power industries reduce errors in human factors. In many ways, the hospital is similar to a United Airlines cockpit.” Other hospitals pursue innovation by implementing the most advanced procedures and techniques to provide advanced patient-centric healthcare.
The comparison of healthcare with the airline industry or any other service industry is not too far-fetched. In fact, the founder of The Breakaway Group, Charles Fred, brought his experience in the aerospace industry to help healthcare organizations and providers transition from paper records to electronic systems. The Breakaway Group utilizes targeted role-based simulations to help clinicians rapidly learn new healthcare software systems. Simulation learning was a commonly used method when the aviation industry transitioned from analog to digital systems. This is only one example of the many innovations that occur when incorporating an outside perspective. Whoever thought we would use 3-D printers for facial transplant reconstruction? Pretty amazing.
Furthermore, as healthcare organizations start to look inward and analyze their EHR data, it may be helpful to continue to look outward to other industries. In his article, The Data Drive Society, author and M.I.T. professor Alex Pentland discusses the digital breadcrumbs left behind by individuals going about their daily lives, the free flow of information and ideas outside of our immediate social networks, and the power and responsibility behind analyzing this data. Essentially, every time we make a transaction, update our Facebook status, or send a text message, we leave a digital breadcrumb. Over time, these breadcrumbs create a dynamic social map. This map could be used to design improved systems for the government and even for healthcare to operate in a more efficient and effective manner. However, with access to data lies responsibility. Pentland argues that although we could access every single digital breadcrumb available about a population, we might need to ask for permission. Individuals should have the right to control their own data and opt out of sharing their information.
So as healthcare begins to remove barriers to accessing and analyzing data from EHRs, we may need to circle back to our legislative body to ensure individual data rights are protected. Although open access to patient data appears to be the ultimate solution, in actuality, it is only the beginning and requires deeper thought. We must balance the desire to analyze and innovate with respect for individual data rights; otherwise classical novels such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World may foreshadow the future inevitability of our society.
But all is not so dire. Go forth and collaborate with outside experts and historians to develop and design solutions for healthcare in the 21st century and beyond. Be bold. Be innovative. Just don’t forget the ethical stuff.
 The author, Alex “Sandy” directs the M.I.T. Human Dynamics Laboratory and co-leads the World Economic Forum’s big data and personal data initiatives.
Xerox is a sponsor of the Breakaway Thinking series of blog posts.