Editor’s Notes: Can We “Rewire” Our Brains to Achieve the New Healthcare? | Mark Hagland | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Editor’s Notes: Can We “Rewire” Our Brains to Achieve the New Healthcare?

March 2, 2018
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Just as Olympic figure skaters are able to rewire their brains to do amazing physical feats—with grace—so, too, the leaders of pioneering patient care organizations are able to “rewire” their care delivery and operational processes.

Just at the time that the 2018 Winter Olympics were opening in Pyeongchang, South Korea in early-middle February, Scientific American published a fascinating article entitled “Go Figure: Why Olympic Ice Skaters Don’t Fall Flat on Their Faces.” In the Feb. 9 article, Yasemin Saplakoglu wrote, “Watching a fellow human jump into the air, spin three times and land on a thin piece of steel—all the while balancing on slippery ice—is an awe-inspiring experience. Figure skaters execute their routines so elegantly, they make it look easy—an illusion that quickly dissolves with our own trepid first step in an ice rink.”

In fact, Spalakoglu noted, advanced figure skaters force their bodies to subvert many normal human instincts in order to triumph in their intensely challenging sport. “Although it may seem Olympic figure skaters have befriended the ice gods… what they have really done is rewire their brains to suppress their reflexes,” she wrote. Indeed, she noted, “If one tilts one’s head backward far enough, the body’s reflexes will kick in. Neurons that are responsible for firing when the brain senses the body is off-balance will set off a cascade of signals from the inner ear to the brain stem, then to the spinal cord and finally to the muscles that tell the body to lurch forward… So how do skaters convince their brains that it’s totally okay the body is halfway to a face-plant?” Essentially, scientists have confirmed, these skaters learn to suppress massive normal internal stimuli while performing their routines.

All of this fascinates me, as an earthbound non-skater. But it also speaks to a more fundamental reality: human beings are capable of immense feats of will and calculation; they are capable of learning new behaviors and strategies in order to adjust to changing environments.

Certainly, these days, the leaders of U.S. patient care organizations are having to learn to adjust to a rapidly changing policy, payment, operational, and technological landscape, as the U.S. healthcare system lurches forward—albeit extremely unevenly—in its shift from volume to value.

It is in that context of a landscape of dramatic change that we at Healthcare Informatics are once again delighted and proud to be able to honor the winning teams in our Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program. Our four finalist teams and 14 semifinalist teams embody the spirit of innovation around adaptive change that will light the way for their colleagues from across the industry. Whether it’s leveraging artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to help reduce avoidable readmissions; combining intensive process improvement work and data analytics to reengineer comprehensive joint replacement bundled payment-based processes; integrating bedside infusion pumps with EHRs (electronic health records); or giving nurse care managers across an entire state the dashboard tools to help them reduce return ED visits—our Innovators teams are showing the industry that adaptive change can happen.

Is it difficult? Of course it is. Is it complex? Yes, absolutely. But, just as those Olympic figure skaters are able to rewire their brains to do amazing physical feats—with grace—so, too, the leaders of pioneering patient care organizations are able to “rewire” their care delivery and operational processes, in order to achieve dramatic improvements in clinical, financial, and process outcomes. It can be done.

Meanwhile, it remains our pleasure and privilege to be able to share these profiles, and to cheer on these industry pioneers. Enjoy the articles—we hope they will inspire you.

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