Three Things Health IT can Learn from the Food Network

Nick van Terheyden, Chief Medical Information Officer, Nuance communications
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Nick van Terheyden, Chief Medical Information Officer, Nuance communications

Nick van Terheyden, Chief Medical Information Officer, Nuance communications

If you’ve never watched it, the Food Network®’s hit show Chopped is a cooking competition where four chefs are presented with a basket of mystery ingredients that they must incorporate into a single themed dish (for instance, Thanksgiving breakfast) within a certain allotted time. After each course, the chefs present their culinary creations to the panel of judges and face “the dreaded chopping block,” where they are evaluated on use of ingredients, cleverness, creativity and most importantly, taste.

The show is interesting, but what I find most fascinating is watching the responsiveness and agility of the chefs as they conceptualize their dishes. They are given disparate flavors which they are asked to compose into a delicious meal. Translating seemingly hodgepodge items into a meaningful and palatable format in a short amount of time is difficult, to say the least. It is not unlike the challenges we face in the health IT industry. Much as the chefs have an abundance of ingredients, we in the health IT industry have no shortage of health data. The challenging part is to extract the most important and valuable information—whether it is the latest lab result, X-ray, or consulting physician note—and make it prominent so it is at our physicians’ fingertips and driving more informed clinical decisions. It’s similar to the challenge the contestants on Chopped face: how can I combine these ingredients in a delicious and clever way to impress the judges and set myself apart from my competitors?

“Lessons in health IT can be learned everywhere we look, including on television show competitions”

Recent announcements from large consumer tech companies about digital health platforms and APIs that open source data collection for personal health monitoring have people in the industry buzzing about what the future of health technology will be. I look forward to the day when truly engaged patients are a reality and supported by health monitoring and personal health tools that help them stay out of a physician’s office—it will revolutionize the healthcare industry. But, we need to remember to learn from the past. Metaphorically speaking, adding more ingredients to our health IT basket will not necessarily make our food taste better or our dishes more thoughtfully composed—it will just overwhelm and confuse the judges. As such, here are three lessons we can learn from Chopped:

More doesn’t necessarily mean better; t h e details are what matter. Any chef can tell you that one can cook a delicious spread, but over/under season the dish, and he or she will be doing the walk of shame out of the kitchen. Those of us in health IT also know the importance of applying a discerning eye to vital data. We have seen the dangers note bloat and copy forward, and we need to ensure that those who are accessing the health data are able to immediately find what they need. Just as you shouldn’t have to eat an entire bowl of spaghetti to find a meatball, you shouldn’t have to manually parse through a patient’s entire medical record to find a glucose level from last week.

 • Presentation is everything. My wife says, and she is always right, “you eat with your eyes first.” A good chef knows the importance of combining and arranging the ingredients of a dish in a way that is appetizing and delicious looking to the foodie. The same goes for personal health data. We can be tracking every heartbeat and measuring every level in our body; however, if it is not organized and presented in a meaningful way, it will not be accepted or understood effectively by physicians or health consumers.

Vision needs to become reality. Chefs who do not thoroughly think through the elements of their recipes or plan their time accordingly often find themselves presenting a dish that differs from what they had envisioned or run out of time completely presenting a dish with only a few of the mystery basket ingredients. Similarly, while it is great to imagine the future of health IT, what we need right now are well-thought out, logical, and achievable solutions that transform even the most challenging ingredients into a delicacy. (Remember the monkey brains served during the dinner scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?).

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: I feel so lucky to be working in health IT at such an exciting time of innovation. As consumers, we are clearly developing an appetite for personalized health monitoring. Now, we just need to make sure that as an industry we capture the right ingredients and offer the finest solutions to our customers. Lessons in health IT can be learned everywhere we look, including on television show competitions, so remember: details matter, presentation is everything and don’t forget your vision.

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