A beloved professor of mine once told me that the value of a liberal-arts education was not in learning what to think, but in learning how to think. I have remembered this maxim often in the years since I finished being formally educated; I’m not sure anyone is ever done learning how to think, no matter how many years of schooling he or she has had or how many years ago that schooling took place.
Contemplating the changes currently happening in radiology and health care, I find myself returning again to this idea. Nothing summarizes the changes that we are undergoing better than to say that we are revolutionizing how we think. Our view of outcomes is changing, our view of our customer is changing, and our view of ourselves is changing. We are learning a new way to think that includes setting targets, measuring our progress toward those targets, and getting feedback on how well we’re progressing—and what we can be doing better. As Bill Gates wrote in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, we are recognizing the power of empirical data to transform our world.
For some, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Medicine in the United States remains, for many physicians, a fundamentally individualistic undertaking in which extremely intelligent people find a way to work that works for them—and don’t wish to have it challenged (you’re thinking of someone in your practice who fits this description now, right?) The problem isn’t with the knowledge base of these physicians, which is staggeringly large, complex, and imbued with the artfulness that only experience can bring. Radiologists know what to think; the challenge is changing how they think.
That’s why I like the Gates article. It is a welcome reminder that no one is immune from the paradigm shifts that can be the result of new, previously unavailable data. Take his example of the Colorado county school system that implemented new evaluation processes for its teachers: when the only measurement applied to teacher performance is test scores, we all know the consequences. When new measurements—the results of student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators—are introduced, however, not only is teacher performance better understood, but improvement becomes faster and more enduring.
We are lucky to live in an era of unprecedented data in radiology, but the loop of measurement, feedback, change represents a striking shift in the way we think: It requires that we put less stock in our instinct and individualism—and more faith in the power of the collaborative approach or counterintuitive solution. It’s a revolution of thought that will position us to be optimal caregivers in an increasingly complex and consequential health-care future.
Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.