An excerpt from The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015). The YouTube video opens to show a balding middle-aged man sitting on a stool, strumming a guitar. In a gentle, twangy croon, the man, Robert Schwab, chief quality officer for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Denton, Texas, sings “The Ballad of Go-Live,” ...

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shutterstock_185580974 Natural language processing might seem a bit arcane and technical -- the type of thing that software engineers talk about deep into the night, but of limited usefulness for practicing docs and their patients. Yet software that can “read” physicians’ and nurses’ notes may prove to be one of the seminal breakthroughs in digital medicine. Exhibit A, from the world of medical ...

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New_Image “What’s up with the ABIM?” “I just got a note about an alternative board. Should I join it?” “Aren’t you glad to be off the Board?” These days, I get these questions from friends and colleagues regularly. When I first joined the board of directors of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) in 2004, the organization was a well-respected pillar ...

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o-SULLY-SULLENBERGER-BABIES-facebook The story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger -- the “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot -- is a modern American legend. I’ve gotten to know Captain Sullenberger over the past several years, and he is a warm, caring, and thoughtful person who saw, in the aftermath of his feat, an opportunity to promote safety in many industries, including health care. In my continuing ...

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Andy McAfee is the associate director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He is also coauthor (with his MIT colleague Erik Brynjolfsson) of the 2014 book, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, one of my favorite books on technology. While he sits squarely in the camp of “technology optimists,” he is thoughtful, appreciates the downsides of IT, and ...

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Of the nearly 100 people I interviewed for my upcoming book, John Halmaka was one of the most fascinating. Halamka is CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a national leader in health IT policy. He also runs a family farm, on which he raises ducks, alpacas and llamas. His penchant for black mock turtlenecks, along with his brilliance and quirkiness, raise inevitable comparisons to Steve Jobs. I interviewed him ...

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Atul Gawande is the preeminent physician-writer of this generation. His new book, Being Mortal, is a runaway bestseller, as have been his three prior books, Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto. One of the joys of my recent sabbatical in Boston was the opportunity to spend some time with Atul, getting to see what an inspirational leader and superb mentor he is, along with being a warm and menschy human being. In my continued series of ...

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The policy known as meaningful use was designed to ensure that clinicians and hospitals actually used the computers they bought with the help of government subsidies. In the last few months, though, it has become clear that the policy is failing. Moreover, the federal office that administers it is losing leaders faster than American Idol is losing viewers. Because I believe that meaningful use is now doing more harm than good, I see these ...

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In retrospect -- always in retrospect -- it should have been obvious that, when it came to Dr. Charles Denham, something was not quite right. In a remarkable number of cases of medical errors, it’s clear -- again, in retrospect -- that there were signs that something was amiss, but they were ignored. The reasons are manifold: I was just too busy, things are always glitchy around here, I didn’t want ...

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As my Division of Hospital Medicine has grown -- now to about 60 faculty -- I spend part of my time figuring out what direction we should go in. At times, the path is obvious. It didn’t take Wayne Gretzky to recognize that we needed expertise in healthcare IT a decade ago, or in cost reduction more recently. The story of how we became the nation’s leading program for “global health hospitalists” is a very ...

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About eight years ago I was desperate to improve my golf game. I just couldn’t straighten out my drives or hit my irons crisply. (Yes, I’m fully aware that this is a first world problem). I decided to try golf camp in Palm Springs for a few days. My sensei, a crusty ex-touring pro named Artie McNickle, watched me hit several dozen balls on the driving range, video recorder running. “So, ...

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In 2008, I gave the keynote address at the first “Diagnostic Errors in Medicine” conference, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The meeting was filled with people from a wide variety of disciplines, including clinical medicine, education, risk management, cognitive science, and informatics, all passionate about making diagnosis safer. The atmosphere was electric. My lecture was entitled, “Why diagnostic errors don’t get any respect” (I wrote up the ...

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A few weeks ago, a middle-aged man decided to tweet about his mother’s illness from her bedside. The tweets went viral and became the subject of a national conversation. The man, of course, was NPR anchorman Scott Simon, and his reflections about his mother’s illness and ultimate death are poignant, insightful, and well worth your time. Those same days, and unaware of Simon’s real-time reports, I also found myself caring for my hospitalized ...

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There are tens of thousands of policies in Medicare’s policy manual, which makes for stiff competition for the “Most Maddening” award. But my vote goes to the policy around “observation status,” which is crazy-making for patients, administrators, and physicians. “Obs status” began life as Medicare’s way of characterizing those patients who needed a little more time after their ED stay to sort out whether they truly needed admission. In many hospitals, ...

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I recently completed my last day as chair of the ABIM, and ended my eight-year tenure on the Board. In this blog – a bookend to the one I wrote at the start of the year, which went near-viral – I’ll describe some of our accomplishments this year and a few of the challenges that I leave my talented successors to grapple with. I had two very tangible tasks to accomplish ...

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I sometimes explain to medical students that they are entering a profession being transformed, like coal to diamonds, under the pressure of a new mandate. “The world is going to push us, relentlessly and without mercy, to deliver the highest quality, safest, most satisfying care at the lowest cost,” I’ll say gravely, trying to get their attention. “What exactly were you trying to do before?” some have asked, in that wonderful way ...

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Everybody hates curbside consults – the informal, “Hey, Joe, how would you treat asymptomatic pyuria in my 80-year-old nursing home patient?”-type questions that dominate those Doctor’s Lounge conversations that aren’t about sports, Wall Street, or ObamaCare. Consultants hate being asked clinical questions out of context; they know that they may give incorrect advice if the underlying facts and assumptions aren’t right (the old garbage in, garbage out ...

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In the past, neither hospitals nor practicing physicians were accustomed to being measured and judged. Aside from periodic inspections by the Joint Commission (for which they had years of notice and on which failures were rare), hospitals did not publicly report their quality data, and payment was based on volume, not performance. Physicians endured an orgy of judgment during their formative years – in high school, college, medical school, and in ...

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I’m well aware that a good fraction of the people in this country spend their lives furious at the New York Times. I am not one of them. I love the Grey Lady; it would be high on my list of things to bring to a desert island. But every now and then, the paper screws up, and it did so in a big way in its
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These should be the best of times for the patient safety movement. After all, it was concerns over medical mistakes that launched the transformation of our delivery and payment models, from one focused on volume to one that rewards performance. The new system (currently a work-in-progress) promises to put skin in the patient safety game as never before. Yet I’ve never been more worried about the safety movement than I am ...

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