We have some questions for you—questions, that is, about health information. What is it? Can you get it when you need it? What if your community needed important information to make your town or city safe or keep it healthy? How about information about your health care? Can your doctors and nurses get health care information about you or your family members when they need it quickly?
I came across a recent Wall Street Journal article about a remarkable story of health, resilience and survival in the face of an unimaginable health crisis—a Liberian community facing the advancing Ebola infections in their country got health information and used it to protect themselves. When the community first learned of the rapidly advancing Ebola cases coming toward them, the leaders in that Firestone company town in Liberia jumped on the Internet and performed a Google search for “Ebola”.
Earlier this month Shiv and Ryan published a piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine, entitled What Can Medical Education Learn from Facebook and Netflix? We chose the title because, as medical students, we realized the tools our classmates are using to socialize and watch TV use more sophisticated algorithms than the tools we use to learn medicine.
What if the same mechanisms that Facebook and Netflix use—such as machine learning-based recommender systems, crowdsourcing, and intuitive interfaces—could transform how we educate our health care professionals?
For example, just as Amazon recommends products based on other items that customers have bought, we believe that supplementary resources such as questions, videos, images, mnemonics, references, and even real-life patient cases could be automatically recommended based on what students and professionals are learning in the classroom or seeing in the clinic.
That is one of the premises behind Osmosis, the flagship educational platform of Knowledge Diffusion, Shiv’s and Ryan’s startup. Osmosis uses data analytics and machine learning to deliver the best medical content to those trying to learn it, as efficiently as possible for the learner.
Since its launch in August, Osmosis has delivered over two million questions to more than 10,000 medical students around the world using a novel push notification system that syncs to student curricular schedules.
Osmosis is aggregating medical school curricula and extracurricular resources as well as generating a tremendous amount of data on student performance. The program uses adaptive algorithms and an intuitive interface to provide the best, most useful customized content to those trying to learn.
“‘Let’s go.’ ‘We can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘We’re waiting for Godot.’” ― Samuel Beckett
For the economists in our midst, demand is a critical but pretty dry idea: the quantity of a good or service a buyer is willing to purchase at a given price. It’s presumed to be part of working health care markets.
It’s one of the first things an undergraduate might learn in Econ 100.
There’s no urgency in this demand; it just is.
Of course, nothing—even general economic principles—is simple in health care. Still, you can look longingly at a few nice supply and demand curves and dream about how things might be—if only.
If only health care consumers picked up their role and skittered up and down those demand curves.
If only they helped us find those elusive market equilibriums for this health care service or that. For some time, lots of people have seen that enormous and powerful potential—and drooled over it.
We’ve been waiting a long time for our consumer to show up in health care. We’ve been waiting for the consumer to obtain and use the information she needs to demand great care.
We’ve been waiting for lots of consumers to do that over and over to help us out of our unfortunate health care jam.
It’s that jam where we pay too much for lots of care of marginal quality riddled with safety problems and delivered by a bunch of dissatisfied, demoralized health professionals.
Indeed we have been waiting a long time for our health care consumer. Certainly, there have been and continue to be countless reasons why consumers haven’t arrived to help save us.
“Health care is different!”
“There’s no evidence that consumers will behave like normal consumers in health care!”
Hello. I am Mike Painter, and I track. I don’t necessarily have a compelling reason to track health parameters such as exercise patterns, heart rate, weight, diet and the occasional blood pressure. Yet I do. I do most of my tracking with several small devices, simple sensors and software applications. My tracking is also pretty social—meaning I share much of my data widely and daily. You’re welcome to see it—most of it is on Strava. Admittedly, I still keep some data daily on a paper calendar, and I do monitor diet and sleep in my head—i.e., nobody needs to remind me about my food splurge days. The local bakery is intimately aware of that data point as the employees witness me charge in, wild-eyed and drooling for a giant cinnamon roll every Thursday morning—almost without fail.
It all feels pretty normal to me.
Here’s the rest of the story: I track to enhance athletic performance rather than monitor my health, per se, or even really my wellness. I am an avid cyclist and have tracked miles, location, accumulated elevation, heart rate and power readings and other data for years. I share that information with both cyclist colleagues I know and don’t know on Strava. That site eagerly ingests my data—and among other things, plops it into riding (and running) segment leader boards, riding heat maps—and, most importantly, in training, trend graphs like the attached. All that data is incredibly helpful to me—it empowers me by making me face the numbers—it makes my training data- and reality-based. I don’t have to guess to maximize my fitness and minimize my fatigue level in anticipation of a big event. I follow the numbers.
Is all that bad? To me, my obsession with tracking my athletic performance seems like an extension of observing data for health and wellness.
If you’re going to get ambitious about your next task, don’t go and talk to normal people about it. You’ll only get normal answers. Get out of your comfortable little world and step into a completely alien one. As we say round here, when worlds collide, transformation happens.
Love that passage from Brian Millar’s 2012 Fast Company piece. (Plus, it gives me the awesome chance to nod to the eccentrics and outliers—like Millar’s dominatrix and tattooed hipster set—and their unlikely importance to pioneering, breakthrough ideas).
Recently RWJF extended another grant to the Khan Academy; this one for $1.25 million. I say another as we started this health education journey with Sal, Rishi and the Khan team—right after Sal’s outstanding 2011 TED/Long Beach talk. That discussion resulted in a preliminary 2012 $350,000 bet on this great team. We were intrigued by their big idea—and we thought the world might be too.
What’s that big idea again? Just this: an entirely free, utterly fantastic health education for anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection.
Potentially crazy? Perhaps. Ambitious? No kidding. But for RWJF’s pioneering work, that’s right where we like to be. We thought there just might be something there. One year later, we are even more convinced. In that time, the Khan team has pushed intensely and hard—creating its new Healthcare and Medicine Initiative basically from scratch.
For instance, with our support, Khan staff have developed about 200 videos now posted on that Healthcare and Medicine Initiative site—as well as their YouTube medical channel. These videos have received about 800,000 views, and the site has over 10,000 new subscribers. Khan continues to work with Stanford Medical School. That collaboration includes developing and posting Stanford Medical School content on the Khan site as well as integrating the online format into traditional medical school courses.Continue reading…
My wife Mary and I recently got a series of early morning calls alerting us to the declining health of Mary’s mom, who was in her 90s. She died later that week. We were stricken and so sad, but took comfort that she died with dignity and good care on her own terms, and at her home in San Francisco.
Ten years ago, we received a very different early morning call, about my father. An otherwise healthy and vigorous 72-year-old, Dad had fallen at home. Presuming he’d had a stroke, paramedics took him to a hospital with a neurosurgery speciality rather than to the university trauma center. That decision proved fatal.
A physician in Seattle at the time, I arrived the next day to find Dad in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Dad’s head CT revealed a massive intracranial hemorrhage. Dad also had a large, obvious contusion on his forehead.
The following day, the physicians asked to remove Dad from the ventilator. He died that night. We were profoundly devastated by his death and upset with the care he’d received.
Our family wasn’t interested in blame or lawsuits. We did, however, want answers: Why hadn’t Dad been treated for a traumatic injury from a fall? Shouldn’t he have had timely surgery to relieve pressure from bleeding? What went wrong?
I’ve spent the last decade searching for answers, for myself and countless others, to questions about how to improve health care. I’ve had the honor of working with many people pushing health care toward high value, at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF) and elsewhere.
We’ve worked hard to find solutions. We all get it: The health care problem is a big, complex one without silver bullet answers. Still, we’ve made incredible progress with efforts like RWJF’s Aligning Forces for Quality Initiative in which community alliances work to improve the value of their health care.
We’re searching for ways to help us all make smarter health care decisions. We’re helping health care professionals improve and patients and families be more proactive. We’re exploring the price and cost of care, and ways to automate health care information with technology.
And importantly, we’re working to align the incentives that health care professionals need to support and deliver great care. We strongly believe that unless we reward great results, we won’t get them. That means payment reform, with a focus on financial incentives for those who hunt for waste, resolve safety problems, sustain improvement, and, most of all, innovate to save more lives.
But do financial incentives to promote and reward behavior work?
Just a little over four years ago, President Obama, in his inaugural address, challenged us as a nation to “wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.” This was an awe-inspiring, “we will go to the moon” moment for the healthcare delivery system. But the next thought that ran through the minds of so many of us who work on health IT issues was this: how were we going to get there?
And it was clear why. The promise of EHRs was enormous and we knew that paper-based records were a disaster. They lead to lots of errors and a lot of waste. I have cared for patients using paper-based records and using electronic records – and I’m a much better clinician when I’m using an EHR. In the weeks that followed Obama’s inaugural address, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which contained a series of incentives and tools to drive adoption and “meaningful use” of EHRs. None of us knew whether the policy tools just handed to the Obama administration were going to be enough to climb the mountain to universal EHR use. We were starting at sea level and had a long climb ahead. Continue reading…
From SFO, I carefully followed my Droid Navigator’s directions off Highway 101 into a warren of non-descript low-slung office buildings—non-descript except for the telltale proliferation of Google signs and young adults riding colorful Google bikes. I drove around to the back of several of those complexes and finally found the correct numbered grouping. It really could have been any office or doctors’ office complex in the U.S. The Khan suite is on the second floor. There’s a simple brass plate saying “Khan Academy” on what looked like oak double doors. I let myself in and immediately encountered a large, central open space—with long dining tables, food, an ample sitting area with couches conducive for group discussions—and a friendly greeting by programmers and staff. Oh, and computers—there were lots of computers. As far as I could tell, nobody had their own office—though maybe Sal does. Everyone was also open, friendly and passionate about the great work happening there.
After some trial and error, Rishi and I found an unused office and huddled around his Mac for a Google Hangout interview with a Bay Area reporter about the Khan/RWJF health care education project. Later, I met with Shantanu, the Khan COO and former “math jock” high school friend of Sal, as well as Charlotte, external relations, and Matt, software engineer. They’re all long termers at Khan—that means they’ve been there for about two years. Overall, the energy was pretty electric. One other small thing—do not be fooled—these incredible people are, how should I put it—ferociously—intense and focused.
Pioneers in flipping the med school classroom
The next morning, Rishi and I met at Stanford Medical School—in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge—an enormous and beautiful building off Campus Drive near the hospital that did not exist back in my days as an earnest Stanford law student. We were there to observe some pioneers in medical education attempt to use Khan-like videos to flip the medical school classroom. This work at Stanford is part of the current Khan Academy and RWJF collaboration. We’re trying to understand what happens when a medical school attempts to use the Khan-style videos to change the classroom interaction.
I am a family physician, but one who doesn’t currently practice and importantly, one who isn’t slogging day after day through health care transformation. I do not want to be presumptuous here because the doctors and other health professionals who are doing this hard work are the heroes. They are caring for patients while at the same time facing tremendous pressure to transform their life’s work. That includes overwhelming pressure to adopt and use new information technology.
This level of change is hard, difficult and confusing—with both forward progress and slips backward. Nevertheless, doctors take heart because you are making progress. It may be slow at times, but it’s substantial—and it’s impressive. Thank you.
The Annals of Internal Medicine today published a study (I was one of the authors) finding that more than 40 percent of U.S. physicians have adopted at least a basic electronic health record (EHR), highlighting continued progress in the rate of national physician adoption of EHRs. The study, also found that a much smaller number, about 9.8 percent of physicians, are ready for meaningful use of this new technology.
Some might say, “Wake up, folks!” Look at those small meaningful use numbers. Change course, now. After all of this time and tax-payer expense, less than 10 percent of doctors are actually ready to use these important tools meaningfully. What’s up with that?
To me, though, this study is good news. All who care about health care transformation should be heartened by the progress—but also impressed by the enormous challenge that our health professionals have undertaken.