Carol Harnett

Chairperson, Health & Performance Innovation Institute


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In our move toward the "quantified self" when we regard our health and the health of others, are we ignoring the importance of rituals?

I am a writer, speaker and consultant on health, especially in the employed population. Employer-based health care initiatives are almost blinded by metrics. As a strong advocate for well-designed research, I understand this drive. But I am getting worried that we are missing something.
- How should the rituals of human touch, observation and conversation fit into our assessment and understanding of health?
- What are we missing by focusing almost exclusively on data and metrics?

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    Oct 8 2011: What gets measured, gets improved.

    I'm actually working on an open-source health tracker, hopefully significantly lowering the cost of these devices so that more people have more access to them. More people would thus develop the self-awareness to make better informed decisions that will optimize their future.
  • Sep 28 2011: BTW TALKS:
    Abraham Verghese: A doctor's touch
    Fabulous talk thank you so much
  • Sep 27 2011: Technology, data, metrics and the entire gamut of evidence based medicine devices have been touted as being a means to the end of the goal of cure . But in today's era of corporate healthcare do these means justify the end? My answer is no.In fact it is a vicious circle. With information explosion, and doctors who neglect the importance of conversation, patients sue and file litigations and to escape this, doctors have come to excessively rely on laboratory investigations and now practise what is infamously known as defensive medicine. If only physicians would spend an extra few minutes communicating with patients, it would save everyone involved a lot of headache and money. No doubt laboratory investigations serve as a valuable tool for diagnosis, yet as physicians we must not forget that unlike the corporate honchos sitting in their plush offices and counting profits, patients are not statistics, they are human beings.
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      Sep 28 2011: Hi again Deborah,
      I was thinking about your comment on the use of evidence-based medicine. I think the concepts of observations, conversation and touch can be successfully combined with the application of evidence-based medicine from the standpoint of applying the best treatment for the patient.
      Evidence-based medicine's focus was meant to primarily make certain that the patient was receiving the best care for his/her situation and was meant to avoid treatments that had no impact or did harm. Coincidentally, sometimes that saves money for the health care system, too.
      • Sep 29 2011: I do agree with the fact that it would be ideal to combine the best of both worlds for a patient - a physician's people skills and medical technology. Sadly this is not what we see happening. What I deeply resent is how by ordering needless investigations, incompetent physicians hide under the cloak of medical technology or order these investigations because that is what rakes in the cash.I am a strong advocate of medical technology for patient healthcare since it would be foolish to solely rely on physical examination to arrive at a diagnosis. However, the need of the hour is to rein in unregulated and unjustified over use of investigations which are only burning a crater in the patient's pocket while doing nothing to relieve him/her of their suffering.
  • Sep 27 2011: When I went to medical school, My professors in a bid to drive home the importance of observation, always stressed that the diagnosis of an ailment in a patient begins the moment he/she walks in through the door of your clinic. I strongly agree. There is nothing more soothing for a patient than to have a comforting presence, a patient listener who empathizes and a warm arm around the shoulder when he/she is confiding their darkest fears and being completely vulnerable. The greatest offering our patients give us is their absolute faith and trust . Touch, observation and conversation are 3 vital elements to establishing a successful doc-patient relationship. Without this humane approach, we physicians would cease to be " healers" in the true essence of the word.
  • Sep 28 2011: Psychology has a lot to say about touch; starting with the experiments of Maslow and baby chimps
    There is also Interesting connection here with the 'Transactional Analysis' concept of "stroking" (a lot more complex than it sounds).

    Also with shamanic healing rituals,spells, folklore and magic which in our hubris we have dismissed as 'unscientific' and ineffective.
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    Sep 27 2011: Hi Ed, I am not familiar with "tapping." I will have to do some research on that term. In the U.S., the cost of health care has people buried in the data in pursuit of an answer to rising costs. I believe it's difficult for most to get beyond looking for hard numbers right now. I agree that health is often a balance of many elements, including emotions and spirit.
    Hi Deborah, I appreciate your comments. It is important to hear from the direct caregivers. I used to do clinical work and know of what you speak. Defensive medicine is a problem in and outside the U.S. I once saw some research indicating that if a physician or health care practitioner made an error that simply admitting it, explaining what happened and saying, "I'm sorry," significantly decreased patient lawsuits. Unfortunately, legal advisors recommend strongly against this approach.
    I believe that some corporate leaders are trying to see a bigger picture than metrics by looking at other issues such as employee and patient global well-being, but they are currently in the minority. Maybe discussions like this one will help.