Bees do it… what about us?

The impending perfect storm of unsustainable health care systems collapsing under demographic burdens and economic austerity programs has already been well documented (Standard & Poor’s report Global Aging 2010: An Irreversible Truth).

Among the factors exacerbating the complexity of this global challenge we can include shortages of clinicians, unscaleable infrastructures at the point-of-care and flawed economic models that pay for “inputs” and “face time.”

Nature is no stranger to this level of complexity. Just think of a bee hive: how does a bee decide what to do at any given moment to ensure that the full colony thrives? Very few animal species have arrived at this state of so called eusociality, a highly evolved form of social structure that informs the ecologically dominant role of both social insects and humans.

Eusocial species express complex behaviours such as group decision-making without central leadership, relying instead on self-organized processes that involve consensus-building to find nests and allocate resources. Rather than acting in “silos,” eusocial species tend to act altruistically, making decisions in the interests of the system as a whole rather than defending/protecting individual interests. Bees, wasps and ants must have amazing information technology!

Established health care systems around the world could use a lesson from bees.

As established health care systems around the world struggle to improve health care delivery against a backdrop of legacy processes, technology, governance and procedural design, they could do with a lesson from the bees.

Within this ecosystem live the thought leaders and change makers – the entrepreneurs, management information systems (MIS) vendors and visionary health care managers who pioneer innovation adoption with a “just do it” attitude, demonstrating significant cost and quality benefits to the patient, clinician, tax payer and health system in general. Sadly, unlike in a hive structure, the “silo” design of today’s health care systems prevents these innovative ideas from being scaled and thus, adopted.

To address these issues, some of the greatest names in information technology have long advocated the use of the Value Model when discussing health IT investments. It provides an industry-tested approach to discussing and measuring the benefits of health care IT (HIT) investments, with a focus on quantifiable benefits that produce a financial impact. It asks two simple questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • How do we know we’ve arrived?

Intel’s HIT Model expresses the “where to” question as a value dial, a starting point for specifying what you want to achieve. For health care, value dials typically include patient safety and access, cost optimization and staff satisfaction. Some of the most significant benefits from the application of a value dials framework are identified when discussing which performance indicators are most relevant to specific HIT-enabled projects, as well as to organizational goals and culture as a whole. Unfortunately, these discussions almost never take place across today’s health care silos.

Eusocial species rely on the pattern of social circuitry to create the “intelligence” of the network (or “hive intelligence”), drawing out ideas from individuals and “processing” them until one is selected as the group’s decision.

The mission of the MaRS Health IT Forum (taking place in May 2012) is to replicate this decision-making model, creating a managed environment of convergent innovation for health care providers, health care IT vendors, investors and innovators. The forum will accelerate the design and adoption of the ultimate technology solutions, working initially with the Ontario health system, and then quickly scaling nationally and internationally.

Stay tuned for further details about this important event.