Ebola Reveals the “Unwieldy” State of our Medical Records

In late September 2014 a man showing symptoms of the Ebola virus came into the United States from West Africa, was examined by doctors at a hospital in Dallas — and was then released back into the community.  There he came into contact with other people before finally being readmitted to the hospital, where he died within a matter of days.

Our radar failed

If the entry of the Ebola virus into the US wasn’t itself shocking enough, one doctor claims that this will not be the last time such an error occurs — due to what she calls “a simmering crisis in medical data management.”

ebolaWriting in the New York Times on October 14, Dr. Abigal Zuger warns, “Even scarier than that mistake is the certainty that similar ones lie in wait for all of us who cope with medical information stored in digital piles grown so gigantic, unwieldy, and unreadable that sometimes we wind up working with no information at all.” (My emphasis).

Dr. Zuger claims that “hospital servers store great masses of trivia mixed with valuable information and gross misinformation, all cut and pasted and endlessly reiterated.  Even the best software is no match for the accumulation. When we need facts, we swoop over the surface like sea gulls over landfill, pick out what we can, and flap on.  There is no time to dig and, even worse, no time to do what we were trained to do.”

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    COMPETING IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY is written by Timothy Powell, an independent researcher and consultant in knowledge strategy. Tim is president of The Knowledge Agency® (TKA) and serves on the faculty of Columbia University's Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) graduate program.

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