“Health Connect South 2016” Transports Attendees from Kitty Hawk to a Moonshot to Cure Cancer

John Tabellione

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

An audience of nearly 500 academic health researchers, technology experts, and medical and bio-medical professionals heard strategic advice from an unlikely source—National Park Service Ranger, Daniel Shook—the keynote speaker at the third annual Health Connect South event held recently in Atlanta. 

Shook used the Wright brothers’ business model that achieved the first controlled sustained flight, as a template for accomplishing everything from a cure for cancer with a “moonshot,” to wrapping arms around big data in electronic medical reports. His address relayed that Orville and Wilbur not only successfully took to the air, but, in the process, they also destroyed the meaning of the word, “impossible,” by spearheading innovation. 

Shook also noted that the pioneers of aviation dreamed of manned flight since their childhood, and their story served as an appropriate metaphor describing the challenges currently before the healthcare community. As Wilbur Wright once said, “For some years I’ve been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will cost me an increased amount of money, if not my life.” 

Shook continued the history lesson, emphasizing key elements of the Wright brothers’ strategic thinking that led to collaborative inspiration. For example, seek outside help; create custom tools; challenge assumptions; push boundaries; and find inspiration in the every day ordinary. The ultimate result: within a mere 66 years after Kitty Hawk, astronauts landed on the moon. 

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society, earlier moderated a discussion of internationally renowned panel members on the topic of this century’s “moonshot” to beat cancer. As the panelists exchanged their experiences and opinions, consensus indicated that the cure for the 3,000-year old disease will likely come in increments, as scientists share genomic data, create partnerships and increase heightened awareness to industry associates from research within their respective silos. 

Dr. Ed Partridge, Director UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, stated, “A rocket to the moon was complex, but doable. Cancer, however, can change and become more complex.” Furthermore, Partridge noted that only 60% of the U.S. population undergoes colorectal exams and only 40% receive an HIV vaccine. In other words, 50% of cancer cases are avoidable if healthcare professionals were to be able to deliver what they know already about the disease. 

 “If all of the population were to match the demographic of college educated Americans, we could prevent a quarter of terminal cancer cases, or save about 150,000 lives,” said Dr. Maurie Markman, President, Medicine and Science, Cancer Treatment Centers of America. 

According to Dr. Partridge, “Cancer will no longer be a major health problem by the end of this century, thanks to screening, prevention and early treatment.” Cancer will be viewed as a chronic condition, not necessarily cured, due to the high costs of drugs and care. Dr. Walter J. Curran, Executive Director, Emory Winship Cancer Institute, added, “We will need to leverage our scientific strengths with public health and nursing schools, as well as with places like the biomedical engineering department at Georgia Tech.” 

The challenge of communicating and understanding the massive computations of information from such sources was addressed by another panel because a potential $750 billion savings in health care exists by scaling big data, according to a McKinsey and Company report. “Big data is disruptive. We’re already in the area of computational medicine. It’s possible for even a smart human to interpolate only a finite number of data points,” said Dr. Carolyn Compton, Chief Medical Officer at Arizona State University Complex Adaptive Systems. “One genome is equivalent to one terabyte of data.”

Dr. Compton continued, “Approximately fifteen to thirty percent of biomedical research is actually reproducible, so the data isn’t reliable. It is necessary to pay attention to the quality and veracity of the data. The cancer world is sorely lacking in terms of data standards, coding standards and standards for rules of implementation.” She added, “The only reliable data is by chart review.”  

Dan Cerutti, VP of Population Health and Cognitive Decision Support, IBM Watson, noted, “The first generation of electronic medical records had a ton of problems, but there was also a bunch of good that came from that. There is a huge, untapped reservoir since 50% of the information is not used. The reason it’s not used is because no human being can read it all.” 

Cerutti cautioned, “Don’t be awed by the problem. You have to take it in incremental steps to raise the bar. Like all other industries, no one’s there yet. There’s so much information, we just have to push forward.”  

On the subject of wearable devices, the visibility of real time information from wearables may eventually affect patients psychologically and can possibly lead to behavior modification once patches and phone apps are galvanized, according to Cerutti. Dr. Compton further noted that the combination of wearables and robotics eventually “will powerfully change the way we practice medicine.” The data from wearable devices may someday be merged with doctors’ files, when a need exists for contemporaneous transmission of data between regular visits to the physician.  

Later in the program, Dr. Ron Wyatt, Patient Safety Officer, Medical Director, Division of Healthcare Improvement, The Joint Commission, made a presentation on Healthcare Delivery: Medical Error Prevention. He noted several alarming statistics: “Fifteen percent of the time the hospital you go to doesn’t have your name right. Nineteen percent of the time, either the equipment that you need to do your job is either not working or missing.” He presented additional statistics, namely, “Seventy-five thousand deaths from hospital-acquired infections annually; medical error is the third leading cause of death in this country. It is endemic. Estimates are two hundred and fifty thousand people a year die from medical error.” 

The root cause of these statistics lies in human factors, such as poor communication and leadership. Courage and compassion are too often thwarted by revenue and margin goals.  

To achieve a safety culture in health care, Dr. Wyatt maintains leaders need to exhibit transparency and infuse joy and meaning into their employees’ work lives. In other words, leaders must ask hospital workers, “Who do you serve, and why and how?” It is the leader who sets the culture by treating people with dignity; giving them the things they need to do their work, and recognizing them for what they do. Dr. Wyatt believes that the secret of quality care is love; a concept borne from what his mother taught him. 

Founder and CEO of Health Connect South, Russ Lipari, summarized the purpose of the top-tier regional health gathering, now in its third year, by asking, “What happens when we are pro-active in unlocking regional health collaborations? Through uncovering health resources in our region, what they are doing, and hearing what they need, we have a unique opportunity to leverage each other to have an exponentially larger impact in health.” Lipari also expressed his “appreciation for the region-wide support from the top levels of health leadership to make Health Connect South possible and advance its mission."

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.