Diagnostic tests such as CAT scans are not perfect. A test can make two errors. It can call a diseased person healthy – a false negative. This is like acquitting a person guilty of a crime. Or a test can falsely call a healthy person diseased – a false positive. This is like convicting an innocent person of a crime that she did not commit. There is a trade-off between false negatives and false positives. To achieve fewer false negatives we incur more false positives.
Physicians do not want to be wrong. Since error is possible we must choose which side to err towards. That is we must choose between two wrongness. We have chosen to reduce false negatives at the expense of false positives. Why this is so is illustrated by screening mammography for breast cancer.
A woman who has cancer which the mammogram picks up is thankful to her physician for picking up the cancer and, plausibly, saving her life.
A woman who does not have cancer and whose mammogram is normal is also thankful to her physician. The doctor does not deserve to be thanked as she played no hand in the absence of the patient’s cancer. But instead of thanking genes or the cosmic lottery, the patient thanks the doctor.
First the definition:
Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.
Now, the health care connection. As a result of the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to health information systems as part of the stimulus program, those companies who had a head start in implementing electronic medical records quickly found themselves in demand. Of all those companies, Epic is the most successful. Forbes notes, “By next year 40% of the U.S. population–127 million patients–will have their medical information stored in an Epic digital record.” Here in Massachusetts, the biggest convert was Partners Healthcare System: “System development and implementation will occur over a 10-year period and represent a capital investment of approximately $600 – 700 million.” Elsewhere, notes Forbes: “The biggest win: a $4 billion project to digitize medical records for health care giant Kaiser Permanente.”
What is striking about this company is the degree to which the CEO has made it clear that she is not interested in providing the capability for her system to be integrated into other medical record systems. The company also “owns” its clients in that it determines when system upgrades are necessary and when changes in functionality will be introduced. And yet, large hospitals sign up for the system, rationalizing that it is the best. For example, Partners said, “The new health care landscape will challenge us to engage in population health management, improve the coordination of health care, and accept financial risk for the care of our patients. This new system will enable us to meet those challenges.”