Will healthcare play nice with data science?

At its core data science is meant to challenge the common wisdom. Susan Lindquist, a geneticist and biochemist at MIT, states, “If you’ve been studying in a field all your life, having someone from a completely different field come and tell you something important could be rather irritating. It’s just human nature.” Part of the problem is a turf issue, she noted, but also a gap in understanding because experts in other fields “don’t get why my ideas work.”

Believe it or not there was a time in medicine when physicians were not physician-scientists. They thought of illnesses as an imbalance caused by bad air or evil spirits instead of looking at anatomy and empirical data.

The history of science is replete with such theories that only became accepted by the scientific community after a long, uphill battle.

All the wonderful evidence-based science in the world cannot cover up some previous ideas that are part of our ugly history, including heroin cough syrup for children sold by Bayer & Co. or making Lysol the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression. Even with these unfortunate cases in our recent history, there are still many scientists whose ideas struggle to find acceptance.

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A quick review of history will demonstrate that every 50 years there is a revolution in healthcare based on the trends of that period.

In the 1870s we had germ theory of disease and promotion of public health efforts. In the 1920s we discovered penicillin and propelled forward the use of medication as treatment for disease. In the 1970s we began randomized, controlled trials which ushered in a period of evidence-based medicine. Now approaching the 2020s, we are set for another revolution: using data science to empower physicians’ work — and most significantly — improve patient outcomes.

I get it: undergraduate studies, medical school, residency and fellowships certainly add up to expertise cultivated over many years; and for that reason, some healthcare providers may have a hard time with receiving outside help. Many of these providers’ view excursions into the medical field by non-medical individuals as intruding.

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