The “Belson Fallacy”

I’ve been attending a variety of presentations on the application of tech solutions to healthcare problems from opioid addiction to wearable monitors.  Very often at front-and-center of these presentations are modern tech tools like data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT).  Ranging from curious to potentially innovative, the solutions presented triggered my recollection of Gavin Belson’s (HBO Silicon Valley) bold claim about how tech can solve every problem.

“If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And… AIDS.”

– Gavin Belson, Chief Innovation Officer, Hooli

What makes Belson’s outlook humorous to me and others who share my view, is how he delivered his claim with a calm, blind confidence that ignored the unfounded bridge from audio-visual file compression to a cure for AIDS!

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been involved in a variety of MedTech solutions over the years, and I’m very open to how tech currently under development may be applied within the health domain. It “makes sense” to me, for example, that data analytics tools can be helpful to gain better insight and understanding of a problem toward the construction of value-based care solutionsMachine learning may also make significant inroads into repetitive procedures that are currently handled by physicians, freeing them to focus on patients in higher value ways. Other notable applications of tech to health, however, have not been wildly successful to date.

Consider Google Flu Trends and IBM Watson Health for Oncology. Noting tech solution struggles in health is not to suggest that further attempts shouldn’t be made or that future applications won’t lead to breakthroughs. I believe certain tech applications will prove useful solutions to certain problems. But I feel that tech often overshadows more human interactions that can be more effective in addressing what is often at the core of health problems, human behavior.

During a recent MedTech event that I attended, a physician reported how difficult it was to confirm drug abuse because addicts would purchase urine from non-addicts to pass drug tests. He then stated how he would really like access to a wearable patch that would collect data from the addict-patient so he could better monitor the patient’s drug use. This physician may not have intended to piggyback these two ideas, but perhaps you are thinking as I did why an addict who was willing to pay for someone else’s urine wouldn’t just pay someone else to wear his monitoring patch?

In contrast to various tech solutions, a presenter at a different event relayed how the use of one-on-one visits between patients in their homes and human advocates led to better understanding of medication adherence and quality of care. This hands-on human approach reportedly made significant improvements without employing virtual social networks, APPS or access to the IoT.

So let’s continue to explore the application of tech to health, stretching boundaries and learning as we move forward. But perhaps we can avoid the “Belson Fallacy” by taking a breath to apply some critical thinking to the wave of hype that seems to accompany many tech press releases and claims about how tech will save the day?

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