Is Healthcare an Art or Science?

At this morning’s Healthcare IT Transformation Assembly one of the panelists commented that providers need to stop treating healthcare as an art and treat it as a science. I was a little surprised how strong the panelist was in this comment. What do you think? Is healthcare an Art or a Science?

My take is that healthcare is more science than it is art. However, the problem we have right now is that healthcare is being treated as more art than science.

When you look at the history of healthcare, it makes sense why many providers treat the care they provide as art. For a long time the science of healthcare wasn’t there and so doctors had to practice the art of medicine because the science of healthcare wasn’t there yet and the science of healthcare wasn’t being shared easily with all of healthcare.

Think about how this has changed over the years. We have hundreds of new ways to measure the quality and effectiveness of the care we provide. We also have the systems to be able to measure the effectiveness of the care we provide. Furthermore, we have drastically more effective ways to communicate the results of the studies and data collection we do. We no longer have to wait months for the journal to come out and be sent to doctors who then have to find the time to read it. We’re in an instant communication environment.

The CMIO of Intermountain, Stanley M. Huff, MD, made a fascinating observation about our ability as humans to understand the impact of the choices we make. He said, “The human mind doesn’t have the ability to identify the difference between a 3 in 100 and 4 in 100 difference in results.” A difference like this is so subtle that we are unable to note the difference. If you ask that 1 person who got a better result, they certainly note the difference. If you look at the cost of that 1 person who has a bad outcome, that makes a huge difference in healthcare costs as well.

We need more scientific tracking of outcomes like this and then we need to implement workflows and communication that ensures that the best treatment is being used. Unfortunately we don’t have this type of tracking and understanding about every aspect of healthcare. That’s why it’s true that healthcare is more science than art. However, over time healthcare will become more and more science. Our healthcare IT solutions should better help us know and implement the science of healthcare.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, 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,, 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.


  • Great article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I’d like to comment on the question “Is Healthcare an Art or Science?”; as well as the statement in the final paragraph, “That’s why it’s true that healthcare is more science than art.”

    I believe it is both. While healthcare providers use science to diagnose, treat and cure illness in patients every day, they’re clearly also artists in how they apply that knowledge. And it goes without saying, healthcare certainly falls within Webster’s definition of art.

    It seems that healthcare would naturally continue to vacillate between science and art – patient to patient, day to day. The physician who uses science to diagnose a patient’s cancer will also hopefully use art in how he or she personally helps guide that patient through treatment. A listening ear, eye contact, a warm smile, seeing and empathizing with the patient’s suffering – that’s true art, worthy of Rembrandt kind of praise.

  • Elizabeth,
    You’re right about the way a doctor interacts with the patient being more art than science. There are certainly a lot of doctors that are masters of that patient connection.

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