Moneyball and Medicine

I’m still not entirely sure how I found it, but perusing the vast internet, I came across this interesting article comparing baseball to modern medicine:

Moneyball and Medicine

First, the comparison threw me off. My thought process is pretty much as follows:

“Who compares things that are so different?

Oh, wait, these are actually more similar than I previously thought.

Whattt, this is actually kind of cool.

I should probably see Moneyball so I know what they’re talking about.

There’s also a lot of others movies I should probably see. I really need to get out more.

OK, back to the article.

These people are cool, I wish I could be as smart as they are!”

Aside from the introspection about how I need to get a life, I found the article quite thought-provoking. I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to applying statistics, so the Moneyball approach has always intrigued me. (Man, I really need to see that movie…)

It turns out this approach has a fancy name attached to it: Sabermetrics. (I was disappointed to find out it wasn’t the secret to becoming a Jedi, too)

I could go on about how I think this approach corrupts the very nature of baseball and how it should remain the pure, instant-replay free, American past time it is. (Maybe I’ll rant about that on a later date. For an article talking about the effect of sabermetrics on sports go here: The ‘Moneyball’ Effect) But I digress.

Let me get to my real point:

Do we really want to apply this kind of approach to Medicine? Would it really be that helpful to try to establish patterns among patients if they are only effective in a highly limited capacity? When I go to the doctor, do I want to meet with him knowing his decisions about my treatment are affected by mountains of data that may supersede the information I give him?

Let me just look up how this turned out for everyone but you…

While it may seem like a great idea on the surface, there are a lot of unknowns, which the article does begin  to touch on towards the end. I have pondered the implications at some length, but I haven’t reached a conclusion yet. Here are some aspects I’ve considered:

Every case is unique. What is a pattern for some, may be entirely different for another patient. What if a patient does not follow the pattern, and because of these methods, the patient is treated incorrectly or something bad happens? Does the benefit to some patients outweigh the risks?

These methods give a vague outline at best, and to be more specific limits the scope of the efficacy of the calculated patterns. How much, if at all, should these be allowed to guide Doctors? Will knowledge of trends picked up through this approach influence Doctors enough that they trust the data instead of their gut and training, and make decisions differently? Would this be helpful or harmful?

Will doctors discount techniques whose methods are not as proven, such as homeopathy or acupuncture, even in cases where the patient may benefit greatly?

What kind of impact would such modeling have on costs in the healthcare system, especially in light of the policy changes which are so highly debated today?

Would this approach cause patients to be seen as just another piece of data and therefore diminish the already declining personal attention doctors give to patients?

There are benefits to this approach, for sure, however the question remains whether the drawbacks outweigh these projected benefits. While I do not think we are close to a “moneyball revolution”, the industry is without a doubt moving towards and testing some of these methods. It has yet to be seen, however, the impact such a revolution would have on patient care.

It is the nature of medicine to continually evolve and change, which often leads to more questions than answers. And while answers to these questions are few and far between, they are still worth considering. I am interested to see how this trend plays out over time, or whether this phase is weeded out completely.

Further discussion needs to occur on such a sensitive topic

I also look forward to seeing what other strange comparisons can be made between baseball and other things, even if they are less serious than this kind of topic.

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