Atul Gawande: Future of healthcare requires constant reinvention

Remembers back to 'period in time where there was no analytics, no effort to look at the data'

Atul Gawande, MD, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and staff writer at The New Yorker, offered a reflective presentation earlier this month at Health Datapalooza IV, taking the audience back through what the healthcare system used to look like, and showing and how data innovations have helped set the stage for big transformations.

"There was a period in time where there was no analytics, no effort to look at the data, no effort to understand what was happening," Gawande said. In his mind, healthcare is at least heading in the right direction. 

Despite these innovations, all this progress and the potential power of big data, however, Gawande made sure to differentiate between technology and medicine – arguing that it was crucial to remember the human element.

[See also: Slideshow: Health Datapalooza IV.]

Gawande referenced Lewis Thomas, MD, who got through medical school by selling poetry and blood. Lewis went on to head Memorial Sloan-Kettering and eventually won a National Book Award for his essays. 

Gawande cited one of Thomas’s essays in particular that would become the topic of his presentation, one titled, “Technology of Medicine.”

“What I love about it, is it looked at how we pay for technology in healthcare, what it goes for, but did it at a time where people really weren't thinking about this,” Gawande said. “The opening you will love because it’s incredibly quaint. He says, ‘Somehow medicine, for all the $80-odd billion that it is said to cost the nation has not yet come in for much analytical treatment.’”