On March 2, 2020 Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, spoke at the TEDMED 2020 Conference, “Make Way for Wonder”, in Boston, Massachusetts. Jena participated in the opening session, “The Wisdom in Wonder”.
Jena opened his talk by referencing the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Three people were killed and over 200 were injured. However, Jena said, the true casualty numbers may have been underreported because, although they were in plain sight, we were not trained on how to see them.
“We sometimes look important facts right in the face and we miss them completely because we aren’t trained to ask the right questions,” Jena said.
When big cities close roads during marathons, the amount of elderly Americans that die from cardiac arrest increases by 15%. Ambulance transport times are longer in the mornings, but these delays disappear when roads reopen in the afternoon. Because of this, Jena says, more people died from ambulance delays than the bombing on the day of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Jena pointed out that important facts are missed in health care because they are occurring not in a study environment, but as natural experiments in the everyday world.
“Being a casual observer is not the same thing as being a thoughtful observer and analyzing what you see,” Jena explained, “And as a result I think that we are at risk for overlooking important facts in many health care environments, because for the most part we are not trained to think in larger, creative terms. We are not conditioned to be on the hunt for these anomalies and to interpret what they mean.”
Throughout his talk, Jena referenced some of his previous innovative studies including the increase of speeding tickets after the release of Fast & Furious movies, how researchers of different genders report their work in publications, and the prevalence of left-hand bias in health care.
Jena urged listeners to look around them and ask bigger, more inventive questions, as they may be the ones to reveal surprising insights and valuable new truths.