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Surprising Science

A Healthy Dose of Pragmatism

In health care and medicine, mistakes are sometimes made. Unintentionally amputating the wrong foot; whoops. Erroneously injecting three times the proper dosage of penicillin; sorry about that. Incorrectly mailing Mr. Matoro a mammography appointment reminder; beg your pardon.

Accidents happen in all kinds of health and medical centers, and they’ll continue to happen. Wrong patient, wrong drug, wrong time, wrong test. There’ll always be some relatively inexperienced clinicians, new procedures, the need for urgent decisions and urgent care.

Some hard-liners and purists argue that with enough trained staff and safeguards, sufficient willpower and leadership, and perhaps even a dash of faith, slips and errors could not only be reduced, but effectively eradicated. They enjoy believing that if you can imagine a world without mistakes, then that world is possible. Yet they’re incorrectly conflating possibility with probability. Just because something’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s probable.

Following that train of thought, medical boo-boos and miscalculations and oversights, even life-threatening ones, can be lessened, mitigated, assuaged. They can never be eliminated altogether.

Pragmatism in health care is crucial. What we need is sensible, realistic solutions. We don’t need perfectionists who call for zero tolerance policies.

Over the past few months, as part of my work with Big Think, I’ve been honored to work on interviews with numerous health care experts. They are no-nonsense, down-to-earth individuals. And their ideas, though confronting and possibly even counterintuitive, are important.

Here are my personal recommendations …

Regina Herzlinger

Empower Workers to Choose Their Own Health Insurance Carriers

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey Disputes That More Medical Care is Better Care

Dean Kamen

Increasing Healthcare Costs Actually Benefits Society

By Lee Bob Black.


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