Gawande, Google and health systems analysis


Earlier this month, New Yorker writer and surgeon Atul Gawande brought his checklist gospel (video) to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Writing for AAAS’ science-policy blog ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis chronicled the encounter, paying special attention to the observations of council member and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

electronic medical recordsGoogle CEO Eric Schmidt. Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr

To Schmidt, the challenge of creating a system that synthesizes patient history and creates a list of standardized recommendations boils down to a simple “platform database problem,” something he says computer scientists are very good at.

Gawande‘s take is that programmers don’t quite understand the vagaries of a typical clinical encounter. The technological capability may exist, but it’s going to be hard to make an information system that is able to generate recommendations brief and practical enough to be of use to a typical super-busy physician who has to suss out six different problems in one 15-minute visit.

In the course of the discussion, Gawande and the council also bemoaned the relatively low status of the health systems analyst and brainstormed ways to raise the profile and effectiveness of the specialization.

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