Reith Lectures: Surgeons, Transparency and Big Data

Very interesting listening to the first of the Reith Lectures from Dr Atul Gawande yesterday. Dr Gawande is nothing if not brave.

He is taking on some serious vested interests with his view that operating theatre data should be made fully available in the interests of improving medical performance. He likens what he’d like to see to the Black Box Recorder in an aircraft cockpit. If Dr Gawande had his way, we’d know exactly who did what and when, and precisely what was said as they did it. Big Data indeed.

This would undoubtedly change operating theatre banter. When I’ve been operated on (nose & sinus mainly, as you ask), even in those few seconds before passing into Nirvana, I’ve had the distinct sense that the operating crew enjoy some witty and irreverent natter as they go about their task.  I guess the presence of a Black Box Recorder would dilute this, at the very least.

But the serious point that Dr Gawande is making is worth serious attention. His hypothesis is that with more data, fully shared, less medical errors would occur.  I suspect he is right. But I also imagine that he will struggle to convince his less radical chums at the coalface. Last time I looked, Consultant Surgeons still had a distinctly elitist view of themselves. I can’t imagine them agreeing that the Transparency Trend applies to their “business”. At least not without a fight and Public Enquiry or two.