Hack the Road

If you have not heard of Paul Levy yet, then you are obviously new to the world of Health IT blogging. This is a CEO of a major Boston hospital that has commited to blog about his day to day dealings as the top administrator of a hospital. I have already gained many fundamental insights from reading his regular blog. He also sometimes blogs at THCB, which I follow.

Recently, he blogged about something off-topic for his typical subject. He blogged about infrastructure, specifically his efforts to get a road fixed. Here is the original post, but I am borrowing the relevant parts here.

A faculty member had complained to him that a bridge she used to get to work was covered in potholes:

Actually, I knew that I could do nothing, at least within a normal human lifespan. That bridge is a jurisdictional nightmare. It is at the border of two municipalities (Boston and Brookline), spans a transit line (MBTA), and also goes over a state park (owned at that time by the Metropolitan District Commission). Just figuring out who would be responsible for the road paving would take decades, much less getting the right person to order a repair.

So, I called Rick Shea, who was the President of MASCO, our non-profit planning and service entity for the schools and hospitals in the Longwood Area. The next day, Connie called to thank me for getting the potholes filled and a new, smooth surface on the bridge. “My pleasure,” I replied, wondering what happened.

I called Rick and he said, “I knew it would be impossible to find someone of authority to make this repair, so I just hired an asphalt firm and had the work done. Each jurisdiction — if they noticed — probably thought it was the responsibility of another. Therefore, no complaints. Job accomplished. Happy to help.”

This is ironic because this exactly what I believe Open Source software can do for Healthcare generally. By providing low-cost, excellent software, we can ‘just fix’ major problems in Healthcare that are intractable otherwise. Not that this ‘hack’ has two components: It was a technological/deployment issue of actually paving the road, along with the political insight that the mere deployment of the technology would work in the given political environment.

Here are a few things that are mired in power struggles just like this bridge.

  • Quality – how to measure if a doctor is doing a good job, and to help him/her to be a better doctor.
  • Patient empowerment – how to make a reactive patient into a proactive patient.
  • Interoperability – how to get healthcare data to usefully move.
  • Continuity of care – how to ensure that the ‘ball is not dropped’ as the patient moves around in the healthcare system.