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Want to Change Health Care? ‘The One Thing That Doctors Respond to Is Data’

April 3, 2019, 8:22 PM UTC

Experts agree: The health care industry can use information more wisely.

The industry can make data accessible to patients and partners. It can take a more nuanced approach to the information it already collects. It can work together to solve problems that virtually everyone acknowledges are making it more difficult to deliver care.

Three executives—Cleveland Clinic and Google Cloud adviser Toby Cosgrove, Pfizer chief patient officer Freda Lewis-Hall, and Geisinger interim CEO Jaewon Ryu—joined Stanford Medicine dean Lloyd Minor at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Wednesday to discuss the role of measurement in a world of real-world evidence.

Their conclusion? There’s much to be excited about—but a wealth of data does not easily translate to better outcomes.

For example, we need a national generational evidence platform, Lewis-Hall said. It’s clear that many organizations have caches of data, but today, they don’t integrate. That must change if we are to measure and share information more effectively, she said.

Besides, Ryu added, “What you measure, how you measure it, and why you measure it fundamentally changes in a fee-based environment versus an evidence-based world.”

With 5,300 medical journals publishing many thousands of articles per year, “we’re just swimming in data,” Cosgrove said. But “we’ve got to put it into a useable form” for exchange. The health industry needs to bring all of that information together “in a central place, the cloud,” he said. And it needs companies to support interoperability.

“The government unfortunately paid for the electronic medical record,” Cosgrove said, referencing an industry sore spot, “but [it] didn’t pay for interoperability.”

Why is that so important? “Every time you look at data, you find something you didn’t expect,” Cosgrove said. “And you have to change what you measure.”

Besides, Lewis-Hall added, patients differ in opinion for which input is most important to the improvement of their condition—a muscular dystrophy patient, for example, may track progress via his or her speed and accuracy of typing on a tablet computer. Medical professionals must search for “aha” moments to change patients’ lives.

In today’s data-driven world, sometimes the ratio is wrong between input (information) and output (insight), Ryu said: “You need a lot more miners to curate that [data] and make it real and tangible…and not just gather a whole lot of ore.”

Here’s the good news, according to Cosgrove: “The one thing that doctors respond to is data.” Their first response is usually, “I don’t believe the data.” Then it takes six months to convince them, and another six to move the needle. “Making it transparent brings peer pressure, which is potent,” he said.

Besides: Knowledge is power. Lewis-Hall recalled that her mother died of a stroke just shy of 52 years old. Data in studies conducted in 1955 showed that an African-American, post-menopausal, female smoker like her mother was high risk for a stroke. But “my mother died in 1977, and the data had not hit the front lines yet,” she said. “And it’s still that way. I can know what the Kardashians ate for breakfast this morning, but I can’t find out what the latest data is informing us to either look for or do, and I think we have a chance to fix that a little bit.”

It’s notable, Lewis-Hall added, that health care is one of the only industries that starts with experience and training and backs into data, rather than the other way around. “I think we have the technology down pat,” she said. “It’s our cultural transition that allows us to think that way and behave that way when a patient is in front of us.”

Cosgrove put it another way: “Health care is really in the process of moving from an art to a science.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here. For news delivered daily to your inbox, subscribe to Fortune’s Brainstorm Health Daily newsletter.