How do we continue to make giant leaps in medicine? What new treatment or approach will allow us to make the greatest gains for patients, in the most effective and efficient ways possible? Where will the next breakthrough come from? These are questions that academics, clinicians, hospital CEOs and medical school deans are constantly asking as we seek to meet the challenges of modern healthcare.
People and technology have a clear role in the answer, but there is another critical factor that is often overlooked: space, and the spontaneity and ideas generated when scientists and clinicians have the ability to work side-by-side.
A great example of this came up during a recent panel discussion at our SINAInnovations conference. Eric M. Genden, MD, and Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Oncology, discussed his experience on a recent case in which a patient had distant metastatic disease that he and his team could not get to surgically. While working on the case, he happened to bump into Ross Cagan, PhD and Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Through their conversation, Dr. Cagan suggested getting a biopsy of the tumor, sequencing it, dropping it into fruit flies, and crossing it with 150 different types of chemotherapeutic agents to see what kills the tumor. Over their chance meeting and a cup of coffee, they mapped out a targeted solution to treat the patient.
The entrepreneurial spirit that brought us personal computing, mobile technology and social networks has fundamentally changed the ways in which we shop, do business, communicate with others and generally connect with our world. Yet it has left medicine largely untouched. Electronic medical records are in their infancy, mobile applications for health are disconnected, and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to applying the power of Big Data to medicine.
At our SINAInnovations Conference held November 12-14, Jeffrey Hammerbacher, who led the original data team at Facebook, and is currently Assistant Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Founder and Chief Scientist of Cloudera, was asked why health care and biomedicine are so far behind when it comes to entrepreneurship and the data revolution. His answer: “Failure hurts a lot more here.”
He could not be more right. Hammerbacher’s experience in data science comes from a place where new applications are built to be broken so that better solutions can emerge. Success is measured in clicks. Failure is a pit stop on the way to the next breakthrough. In health care and medicine, lives hang in the balance of all we do. Success is measured in lives saved. It is our moral obligation to proceed with caution when introducing new surgical techniques, therapies or different ways of doing business.
It’s been reported that James Eagan Holmes, more infamously known as the movie-theatre gunman who killed 12 people during a midnight showing of Batman in Aurora, Colorado, sent a text to a classmate asking whether she knew what “dysphoric mania” was. (It is a bipolar condition that in its extremes, can include mania and paranoid delusions.) Did he have it?
Similarly we wonder whether a near-death accident in childhood, one that was marked by severe head trauma, affected Jeffrey T. Johnson, a.k.a. the Empire State Building gunman, so deeply that it influenced his decision to kill his former boss on his way into the office. Is that possible?
So often we focus on the mental conditions and environmental stressors that may have influenced the perpetrators of horrendous violence. Likewise, in the immediate aftermath of a horrific event—be it violence, an accident, or a devastating natural disaster—the media reports on the nightmares, sleeplessness, anxiety, and other classic sequelae experienced by the trauma survivors. Too rarely, though, do we explore the mental and emotional recovery of trauma survivors, and that of the family, friends, and colleagues who were affected by a victim’s death or lifelong disabilities.