Will This Happen in Healthcare?

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a nerd (maybe even more than a bit) and I really enjoy reading venture capitalist blogs. One of my favorite reads is Fred Wilson. He posts something every day and he provides some amazing perspective on a lot of things. In a blog post a couple months back he posted the following quote, “programming these days is more about searching than anything else.”

For those of you who are not programmers in the room, you might be wondering how this applies to healthcare. Plus, you might be wondering if this statement is true. I assure you that it is true. The reason it’s true is three fold. First, the speed at which programming evolves is so quick that you have to be good at searching for the latest answer to your question. Second, the resources that are available online to answer those questions are phenomenal. You just have to know the right place to look. The amount of information you have to know to program is so great these days that it’s impossible for you to remember everything.

In many ways, all of these evolutions are a really great thing. As one tech friend of mine told me, “I realized pretty quickly that everything my company needs to know is already out there online. The value I bring is finding that information for them.”

I ask you then, “Will this happen in healthcare?”

I’d like to suggest that it’s already started to happen. I’ll never forget the doctor who visited my blog and commented that “the body of medical knowledge is so vast and complex that it’s impossible for the human mind to process it all.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like what I described above. The amount of medical knowledge and the speed at which it changes is impossible for someone to know and connect.

Is it possible that a future doctor will be better at searching for medical knowledge than they are at knowing that information off the top of their head? I think the answer is that they’ll have to be.

Don’t misunderstand me. Providers will still need an amazing baseline of information to be able to search and filter through the vast amount of data. However, they’ll likely remember where to find the answers versus knowing the answer off hand. Plus, their education and training will give them a baseline for understanding the data that they find. This is much the same as the programmer who know the basics, but learns more by searching and finding more information. The technology in this case doesn’t replace the person, but makes the person better.

I also feel the need to note that this won’t preclude other skills like empathy that are so important to the patient-provider relationship. You can’t use a tech search to help you show empathy to someone who’s just miscarried. Those skills will still be needed as much as ever. However, when it comes to medical knowledge I won’t be surprised if it becomes more about searching than anything else.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • It has already happened in Medicine, but we have not yet accepted it.

    However, the solution is not search and Info buttons, but rather it is Clinical Decision Support. The Doctor does not have time to search every condition within the context of a ten minute visit. The correct answer must be provided seamlessly and automatically and must include a simplified way to implement the suggestion

    I suggest you read our paper on this:
    Clinical Decision Support for Medical Students

    Which begins with:
    “In this age, we aspire to practice evidence-based medicine , which has been described as an approach that applies “the best available evidence gained from the scientific method to medical decision making.” (Sackett DL, Rosenberg WM, Gray JA et al) Instead, we are more likely to practice memory-based medicine meaning that “Current medical practice relies heavily on the unaided mind to recall a great amount of detailed knowledge.”(Crane RM) Our failure to practice evidence based medicine is endemic throughout medical care, as documented by McGlynn et. al. who found that barely 55% of patients get recommended care, and that this could be seen in the management of multiple conditions (Figures 1 & 2). Furthermore, the average time from the discovery of a medical advance to reach patients is 17 years – because of the slow adoption of practice changes.(Balas EA, Boren SA) ….”

    Searching is ok and is currently the only game in town, but CDS is what is desperately needed. Unfortunately, EHRs with their strong reliance on free text, are not getting us closer to this goal (And currently seem to be slowing our progress. CDS is very specialty specific and EHRs are generic. Our reliance on the one size fits none EHR approach is hindering real CDS.

  • This reminds me of a quote I heard in law school. Apparently, John Marshall, the great jurist, was home from law school after his first year. A young “lady” (he called her) was trying to converse with him, and asked “how many laws he had learned.”
    As an attorney, I find this amusing, but I know that’s what John Q Public thinks – that I know a lot of laws. But that isn’t how practicing law works. It’s understanding how ALL OF IT WORKS TOGETHER that is important.

    So also is it true of medicine. Knowing lots of medical facts and information is not the key. Knowing how it works together or how it isn’t working together is what makes the difference. A computer or online resource is limited in that regard, and it is only a resource, should not be a crutch or substitute for a doctor.

    The most efficient effective computer on the planet is still the trained human brain.

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