Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When health care research meets Trip Advisor

This is the time of year just after spring break when I enter the stress zone of planning the summer vacation.

I'm always on the quest of making everyone happy.

Finding some place that I can afford, where the kids will have fun and maybe get to experience something new, is always a challenge.

So, I search the internet far and wide for good deals and destinations.  One site that I always check out is Trip Advisor.

This travel website is populated with information on hotels, resorts, air fare, deals, and even food and restaurants.  But the heart of the site is the traveler reviews. These often number in the hundreds depending on the location and are many times candidly verbose.

Visitors can even give a score which is tallied at the top of the review to help you sort through the list.

So what does that have in common with health care research?

Well, frankly, if you relied completely on Trip Advisor you probably would never travel any where.

Let me show you what I mean.

Last year I thought I planned the perfect vacation (turned out, I did according to the family).  We used every (I mean, every) frequent flyer mile I had and the four of us traveled to Kona, Hawaii, one of the most beautiful and mysterious places on earth.

We stayed at the Fairmont Orchid in Kamuela which is on a  grand beach on the west side of the Big Island.  The grounds are impeccable, the staff is always at your beck and call, and virtually every room has a nice view.  I'm a member of the President's Club so the kids were able to get free internet as well as discounts on beach gear.

From the turtles that lounge on the beach to the prettiest sunset in the world, I could live there. 

Now to Trip Advisor:  here are the top reviews currently --

"I have to say that while we love the Fairmont, the level of service has become uneven, if not somewhat mundane."

"The service was average - long waits and average staff at breakfast. Room was nice, but dated. I saw three cockroaches in the hotel. The grounds were lovely but the overall experience was not worth the cost."

"For the price of this hotel, the room was a disappointment. First of all we were on the bottom floor, with people walking by constantly, so there was very little privacy. The bathroom had dust and dirt on the shelves, and the wall was filthy. There were 2 moldy pictures beside the bed..."

The take home message here is that each person has their own experience, and it is impossible to make everyone's stay perfect. 

We live in a society where expectations often exceed reality.  There is just no way to make everyone happy and provide perfection no matter how much you strive for this level. 

That brings me to health care. 

I recently had a lengthy discussion with someone regarding online treatments for a medical condition.  He had done considerable research, wanted to know the ins and outs of every perturbation of treatment, and why some people reported good results and some did not.

He finally wanted my opinion, and wanted me to weigh in on making a further review of these treatments and these patient experiences.

He just couldn't understand why some patients didn't report perfect results with at least one treatment.

I told him that unfortunately it doesn't work that way.  Every patient will have a different experience with virtually every treatment or procedure.

Sure, there is an "expected" outcome.  But we are dealing with a human body that is dissimilar from every other one on earth.  You just can't expect similarity.

But to even be more accurate, we are dealing with humans and their own expectations of what a successful outcome should be.  And that is even more challenging than the biophysics and physiology.  Humans rarely agree on anything.

So the take home message here is that research on medical procedures and treatments can be very valuable, but you should always take into context the individual nature of the reviews.

Otherwise, you would never travel anywhere, and you would never make a health care decision that could improve your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment