Editor’s Notes: Exploring New Worlds—In Space and in U.S. Healthcare | Mark Hagland | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Editor’s Notes: Exploring New Worlds—In Space and in U.S. Healthcare

September 29, 2017
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NASA scientists have spent a decade-and-a-half remotely exploring the world of the planet Saturn; what can U.S. healthcare leaders learn from the scientists’ exploratory experiences?

Sometimes, science is simply exciting. Take the case of the Cassini spacecraft, the exploratory probe that just finished exploring the planet Saturn, including its rings and its moons, for a remarkable 13 years. On Friday, September 15, Cassini flew into the gigantic planet’s atmosphere and burned up, as planned. But for a decade-and-a-half, Cassini gave us amazing images and data from our solar system’s largest planet.

As an article published on Space.com, on September 12, just days before Cassini’s planned demise, noted, “No other spacecraft in history has come to know a single planetary system as intimately as Cassini knows Saturn: Cassini is the first spacecraft to visit Saturn up close since the Voyager probes flew by in 1980 and 1981… The probe has spent more than a decade observing Saturn, studying storms in its cloud tops, learning about its strange, striped atmosphere, probing its cloaked interior and zipping through its more than 60 moons and a ring system stretching more than eight times the planet's radius,” noted Space.com associate editor Sarah Lewin. And Lewin quoted Curt Niebur, Cassini’s program scientist at NASA headquarters in Houston, as saying at a press conference, "The mission has exceeded all of our expectations, done better than we could have ever dreamed.” Among other things, NASA scientists have “probed the mysteries of the Earth-size, hexagonal jet stream on the planet's pole that persists in all seasons, but changes color over time,” have “sent a probe down to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to see the lakes, seas and rivers of methane on its surface, and have flown Cassini through the geyser jets of the tiny moon Enceladus to probe its newfound ice-covered ocean.” And among the surprises, as Space.com senior writer Mike Wall reported in a July 7 article on the project, “The liquid-hydrocarbon lakes and seas on Titan are incredibly calm, suggesting that future missions to the huge Saturn moon could enjoy a smooth ride to the surface.” In other words, NASA scientists are learning things that they can use to advance future exploratory missions.

Facilitating a shift in the U.S. healthcare delivery system from volume to value may be different from expanding the boundaries of space exploration; at the same time, there are real similarities. What both phenomena clearly have in common is this: the leaders of both broad efforts are active learners, in the best sense of the term. They’re moving ahead in their respective areas, and are learning rapidly as they go.

This issue carries several important articles, including Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal’s cover story on how healthcare IT leaders are beginning to leverage artificial intelligence tools to help optimize the patient narrative in physician notes; Associate Editor Heather Landi’s special report on the new revenue cycle management; and my special report on the shift to value-based healthcare.

In all of these articles, one can see healthcare leaders moving forward through rapid learning cycles to develop better and better processes. With regard to the shift into value-based care, physician group leaders in particular are learning very fast how to manage risk-based contracts, and are sharing their learnings with others, including hospital partners.

Indeed, the next few years should be truly exciting: for all its challenges, the U.S. healthcare system is also facing tremendous opportunities to rework itself to better serve all of us healthcare consumers/patients and community members. The innovations that emerge won’t have the visuals of Cassini’s Saturn images, but they’ll be exciting nonetheless. In the meantime, we can imagine what the next Saturn-bound spacecraft will find. It really is exciting, isn’t it? New worlds to explore—in reality, not in science fiction.