Health 2.0

A New Hope? (…But What About That Pesky Death Star?)

Picture a version of the Star Wars opening crawl:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. It is a period of enormous change and worry. The challenges are great. The status quo of poor health care quality and crushingly high costs is bearing down on the people—but that enemy is also under attack. A growing band of folk from all parts of the galaxy are attempting to bring every imaginable force—technology, market, government, people power—to the cause.  No one’s certain how it will all turn out…

Now, cue ominously Darth Vader’s imperial march theme… (Fade out).

Earlier this month, I participated in the 2011 HHS/IOM Health Data Initiative Forum and self-styled “Data-Palooza”.  It was exciting.  Lots of dynamic leaders attended —from the government, the software development world and other industries—lots of Twitterati—social media personalities.  The place buzzed, literally.  (It was just missing the Tatooine bar music.)

I couldn’t help but flash back to last year’s markedly more freshman, inaugural meeting and compare.  The differences one year later were striking—even startling at times.  The obvious progress could make one pretty hopeful.  The vision of creating tools that use previously moribund federal (and other) data in unique ways to solve real problems is already bearing some remarkable fruit.

During the “Data-Palooza” plenary session, a parade of app developers demonstrated technology that mines and harnesses data for very cool, practical purposes.  High points: PatientsLikeMeAsthmapolis; and Multistate Foodborne Disease Outbreak Investigation System (catchy name…).  The whiz bang, jaw dropping technology of these, and other, examples was impressive.  Last year, one really had to suspend to imagine how all this talk might actually have a major impact.  This year it could seem as if the vision isn’t keeping up with the technology.  In fact, perhaps we should be bolder, much bolder.

But, then, the enormity of the challenge brings one right back down to Earth—or rather—Endor.

In spite of the great hope all this vibrant creativity inspires, one wonders about the potential, even cumulatively, of these new app tools to make a dent on our high cost, low value care problems.  In the closing session, Tim O’Reilly pointedly noted that unless we find ways to move the embedded status quo health care incumbents aside just a bit—or at least find ways to open markets so that new approaches can take root, thrive, compete—all this work will be terrific—but ultimately not game changing.  The status quo will soldier on, as always.  In my daydream (read nightmare) I started worrying that these new technological wonders would, rather than triggering imperial defeat, instead end up being like Ewok wooden spears bouncing ineffectually off the usual huge armored imperial Walkers.

But all is not lost, of course.  As we know, the rebels did ultimately destroy the death star and defeat the empire.  They did it by working together and not relying on any single silver bullet (er, blaster) or group or approach.  The new technology on display last week that helps people practically use data to solve tough health and health care problems is incredibly important.  We just need to make sure that we’re also simultaneously doing all the other necessary things—like improving market information, adjusting payment to reward high value, waking up the sleeping health care consumer and supporting our Jedi health professionals—to allow innovation to do what it should be doing for us.  That is, we need to create the conditions that will allow creativity to help us rapidly achieve sustainable high value care focused intensely on and built entirely in partnership with the patient and consumer.

Cue epilogue theme.  (Roll credits).

Michael W. Painter, J.D., M.D., is a physician, attorney, health care policy advocate, and 2003-2004 Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow. He is currently senior program officer and a senior member of the RWJF Quality/Equality Team.

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Dr. Rick LippinrazvarkachinecarTanya SMargalit Gur-Arie Recent comment authors
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Dr. Rick Lippin

“That is, we need to create the conditions that will allow creativity to help us rapidly achieve sustainable high value care focused intensely on and built entirely in partnership with the patient and consumer.”

Excellent sentence but devoid of “soul”?


That’s why I like Star Trek better. First it’s about Earth, not some make believe galaxy far away. Second, it’s not really fiction, because we are slowly catching up with the technology…. really… (no crazy midi-chlorians here). Third, the acting is so much better….

Tanya S

LMAO ur post makes me cracked laughing.

I love star wars but how you interpret it in your post really epic 😛

Mike Painter
Mike Painter


You may be right to stick with Kirk and co.–still no one said that just because folks are professionals that they all get to be Jedi good guys in this story. And, of course, some might even turn bad before they return from the dark side. (i.e., FFS sabors clearly disqualifies for Jedi status here).

Margalit Gur-Arie

That’s what I don’t like about Star Wars – it’s very confusing. Half the time you have no idea who’s fighting who and who the bad guys are, and it changes from episode to episode, and he (Lucas) is altering the originals as he makes up more stuff that happened before the stuff that he made up earlier. That’s cheating…. 🙂 So now it seems that your Jedi health professionals are manning the Death Stars…brandishing glowingly red FFS sabers (can’t tell until they pull that saber out) . That’s why I like Star Trek better. First it’s about Earth, not… Read more »

Mike Painter
Mike Painter


I think you just aptly described…the Death Star(s). Nice. But they do have some vulnerabilities. We just have to find them.


J.D. Kleinke: “…All parties involved in consumer financial transactions have an economic interest in seeing that those transactions work as smoothly as possible. Not so all parties involved in health care’s myriad transactions. The business case for no HIT. The first step in understanding the real intrac- tability of the problem is ignoring the rhetoric. There is a veritable cottage industry involving the articulation of moral outrage over the health care quality “crisis,” much of it public relations spadework for someone’s political or commercial ambition and most of it culminating in a the naïve insistence that the system is on… Read more »

Gary M. Levin MD

May the “Force” be with you. …..Obewon Kenobee

Mike Painter
Mike Painter

And with you. Ah, but which of the Forces, young Jedi, speak you of…?