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.

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