Elementary, Dear Watson, the Symposium is about Change . . . and the Future

While preparing for the Stewards of Change 10th Anniversary National Symposium – which begins next Monday at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – SOCI President Daniel Stein met by phone a few days ago with IBM Global Business Consultant Joseph Fiorentino and Martin Duggan, who leads the IBM Curam Research Institute. Here are edited highlights of their conversation.

Daniel: Five years ago, when IBM first presented at our symposium about your supercomputer, Watson, some of the predictions about the future use of computing in the health and human services realm just blew me away. Can you talk a bit about the progress we’ve made and where you see us heading now?

Martin: We’re now collecting and assimilating data in the HHS space, so we’re able to provide a level of information that simply wasn’t plausible before. And I’d say, going forward, that what’s possible now is just breathtaking. It’s not just making the interchange of data so much simpler, it’s also allowing for the amalgamation of data. At the bottom line, it promises a whole new world for health care . . . including social determinants of wellness … that will make best practices far more available, with radical impact.

Joseph: I agree. I think it goes beyond the programmatic aspects of a computer. It’s about the knowledge we can derive, and are deriving, from combining the insights we gain from technology and from people. The result is not prescriptive, which is to say it will not tell us what we should be doing next, but it will give us deeper understanding with which we can make better decision, shape best practices, and so on. I also think we should appreciate just how far we’ve come in the last few years, because that tells us that what’s next is actually possible.

Daniel: I know your presentation at next week’s symposium (“Insights into the Future of Health and Human Services – Brought to You by Watson”)will provide more details regarding the progress we’ve made and what you see coming. What are your plans for that session, if you can tip your hands a bit, and what are you hoping our attendees will get out of it?

Martin: I would like to start a big, serious conversation … and would love to see it spread across the country, about how to take data from a whole range of sources and methodically determine how to make best use of it to improve processes and people’s lives. There are groups in other countries that are embarking on this sort of effort, and I think it’s critical that it begin in the U.S. as well. We need to determine what governance models we need in human services for the next century, what the world will look like in the future, what we need to be cautious of and what the paradigms are that we need to break.

Joseph: One specific area I’d very much like to address is how we look more holistically at the individual by including behavioral and mental health issues in addition to clinical factors, social determinants and interoperability. . . . Whether it’s the big picture that Martin is painting or if we’re focusing on the needs and concerns of individuals, the important thing is to really be challenging the audience – which is what your symposia always do. Participants always leave having had a chance to sit back and think about the future, rather than just discussing the past or focusing on day-to-day issues.

Daniel: Thanks for the kind words about our event and, most of all, thank you both for your insights. I know I speak for everyone at the Stewards of Change Institute in saying that we look forward to your session – and to those of our other exceptional presenters. See you in Baltimore.

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