Health care often draws comparison to the aviation industry when examining issues of teamwork, transparency, safety, and customer service. Like many, I spent much of the 4th of July holiday weekend watching the unfolding drama in San Francisco.
Many of the aviation experts were making suggestions for travelers—which I routinely follow (including my particular favorite: keeping my shoes on). Having flown to nearly every part of the world, I’ve experienced aborted takeoffs, emergency landings, engine failures, and other in-flight problems. In each case, I’ve been struck by the preparedness of the crew and the logic of the approach to the issue. In addition, I’ve always been reassured by the underlying (and often redundant) technology that supports those actions, and their resulting improvements in safety.
What is particularly remarkable is the aviation industry’s response to accidents. Teams of experts meticulously analyze data from an extraordinary range of sources, seeking root causes, contributing factors, and other issues. Conclusions drawn from this evidence are then carefully crafted into recommendations disseminated to those who are directly impacted and shared with others who might benefit.
Thankfully, many areas of health care adhere to a similar process. Therapies are compared in scientifically valid trials. Adverse outcomes are discussed openly in morbidity and mortality conferences. And transparency and comparative effectiveness efforts are progressively shedding light on best practices.
Amid this coverage, I was also struck by the many commercials for supplements that can purportedly improve my health, fitness, memory, alertness, and more. It is unclear if or how their claims had been tested, or whether they were either safe or effective. Still, they were promoted with confidence and undoubtedly have avid supporters. This is a major part of the health care industry, and an important component of patient-centered care, which plays by different rules and standards.
The health IT industry is at an important crossroads. Recent studies and articles are calling into question the safety and efficacy of electronic health records and other technologies. For years, many (myself included) have extolled the virtues of health information technology. Now is the time for us to follow the path of evidence and determine what works and what doesn’t, and to clearly understand how the interactions of people, processes, and technology come together to either help or harm.