The Health Informatics Conference 2012, Sydney

So #hic12 is nearly here and I’ll be there in a rather unusual capacity. I won’t be giving a talk. I won’t even be standing in front of a poster. I’ll be there as the official twitterer, which means I’ll be flitting around from talk to talk, tweeting from the official @hic_2012 account, and hopefully connecting people in the sort of decentralised organisational process we’ve all come to love about the medium. It’s on from the 30th of July to the 2nd of August and the details are, you know, on the website.

So what’s health informatics all about? Well, at its essence, it’s really about helping doctors, medical practitioners, and clinical researchers do better medicine. Sometimes it’s also about helping patients to help themselves. And pretty much always, it’s about information – spreading it, keeping it private, fitting it together, and using it to improve things.

For all the money thrown around in supporting new technology in healthcare delivery, we don’t seem to have made the sort of progress you might expect for such a critical part of the community – the bit that looks after you when you’re sick. So when you talk to people from outside medicine and healthcare about what actually happens in hospitals and practices around Australia, it’s not a surprise that they’re shocked.

“So the system is paperless, right?” Not even close.

“So the systems aren’t even connected to share information *within* the hospital?” Nope.

“So, I can’t register for an electronic record if my name has a hyphen or an apostrophe?” Haha! no.

It’s hard to believe that this is how things are in healthcare when in the rest of our day-to-day lives we can just download apps on devices to recognise a song/picture we hear/see on the street, connect to people around the world instantaneously, stream live videos of protests to thousands, run away from imaginary zombies to motivate us to stay fit and healthy, and ask Siri to tell us what gets prescribed to patients like us if we visit a doctor. But when it comes to changing technology in the sacred world of medicine there are a few things that get in the way – safety, bureaucracy, the cultural status quo, and profiteering.

And it’s those things that I always want to hear about at conferences on health informatics. Instead of asking what amazing things could be done with the new and ubiquitous technology we have surrounding us, we tend to ask and answer the following:

“How will you make sure that it’s safe?” It will take us many years to evaluate its safety but first we need ethics approval, which will also take way too long.

“How will you know for sure if it is effective and worth the cost?” We will have to test it in the real world, which is in a constant state of flux, so, ummm, actually, we won’t really be able to tell you how effective it is anyway – we’ll guess.

“And it will only cost you a billion dollars!” What?

“How will you convince clinicians to use it?” Oh, there will be resistance. People prefer to maintain the status quo because they work in tightly-constrained worlds with little room to move and adapt. So yeah, there will be resistance.

Meanwhile, there are some impressive people doing some rather amazing things to address the problems, break down the bureaucracy where it isn’t needed, and generally make the kinds of changes to the system that we can be proud of. Quite a few of them will even be at the Health Informatics Conference in Sydney at the end of July.

If you’re going to be there, I’d love to hear from you, find out what your Twitter account is, and add your talk or poster to my tweeting itinerary. If you don’t have a Twitter account and you work in health informatics, I’d like to know why. And most importantly I’d love to ask you how your work addresses or side-steps some of the above problems. I’m looking for disruptive technologies.

Dinner for NetSci2011 at Sofitel Budapest

Pictured below is Robin Dunbar (Oxford) making jokes about monogamy watched by Albert-László Barabási (Harvard, Northeastern), Uri Alon (Weizmann Institute), Alain Barrat (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) and Andrea Baronchelli (UPC Barcelona). Not pictured, but still in the room are other well known luminaries such as Brian Uzzi (Kellogg School of Management), and Hawoong Jeong (KAIST). Next year’s NetSci will be at Northeastern and will be organised by Brian Uzzi.

Spreading, Influencing and Cascading

The NetSci2011 satellite workshop on spreading, influencing and cascading in social and information networks.

Here is Brian Uzzi, whose discussion of the adoption of scientific ideas provided some good laughs, and set some brains ticking over how they might improve the likelihood of increased citation rates for themselves. If only it were as simple as citing the right papers and collaborating across wide distances.

The Central Market Hall (Nagycsarnok) in Budapest.

The Circuits of Profit satellite workshop associated with NetSci2011 was mainly made up of network analysts that were also consultants or employed by private organisations. As I predicted in a previous post, the group spans a wide range of abilities and a wide range of perceptions. However, it was quite nice to see that network analysis is becoming more and more acceptable to large organisations because I’m hoping that means access to a larger range of more analysis-friendly data.

Albert-László Barabási

And of course, some very high-powered scientists were present. For me, the most impressive presentations were made by Harald Katzmair (Founder and Director of FAS Research). A very interesting and charismatic presenter who really understands analysis and modelling in networks. If a company needs a consultant to improve business processes and structures, this would be the best person to consult.

The Central European University is the location for NetSci2011. The first day includes a school and workshops. I’ll be attending Circuits of Profit, which promises to be a practical look at the practice of network analysis in business applications. Hopefully we’ll see lots of good science and not too many palm readers. I’m looking forward to it.

Hungry in Hungary

I’ve arrived in Budapest (on the Pest side) and taken a picture out of the window. That’s all so far but I’m looking forward to mapping out some of the necessary places I need to go and some of the less-than-necessary but culturally-valuable (read: food) places I think I should go. Here is the first of the pictures. The rest are likely to be food, or pictures of networks or famous network scientists.

Danube, Budapest