Opinion: Aim your baloney detector at the BS in health care

Health care has an acute BS problem. Just think of Theranos and IBM Watson. Thanks to social media, it can spread faster and farther than the truth.
Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

BS, what Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt once called a “lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are,” has probably been around since the beginning of language. It’s now common in American discourse about politics (just tune in to any cable news channel), entertainment, and sports.

We’ve noticed an influx of BS in health care. You don’t have to look far to spot it. Just think of Theranos and IBM Watson. We are wondering if several new corporate “turduckens” — like the joint effort of Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JP Morgan, or hospitals combining with medical groups, or mergers and acquisitions creating a single company that’s an insurer, a pharmacy benefit manager, and a pharmacy — are for real or just turkeys.

While BS can be funny, it can also be sad, and worrisome. Thanks to social media, BS today can spread faster and farther than the truth.

Health care has an acute BS problem, in part because BS can sometimes fill the bill. Suppose you are asked to address an ageless problem in health care: reduce costs while simultaneously raising quality. If you were knowledgeable to begin with or did some research, you would know there is no easy solution. You could respond with a message of failure or a discussion of inevitable trade-offs.

Read more: From protégée to whistleblower: A former Theranos scientist says Elizabeth Holmes should ‘come forward and apologize’

But you could also pick an idea with some internal plausibility and political appeal, surround it

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