Statistics and You

Mention statistics and most people’s eyes glass over as they wait for the subject to change to something they know about, anything other than statistics. When I was a young physician executive, I had to sit through countless meetings where data was tossed around in such a way as to prove one’s case, perhaps confuse the real issues, and outright confound the rest of us. Because so much rides on statistics in the business world, despite my primary responsibility as a physician, I felt it was important to learn as much as I could about statistics. After several years of hard study, I found myself a master black belt in lean six sigma.

In business circles, physicians are tolerated but largely held in contempt because they may be highly educated about medicine, but woefully ignorant about business concepts. Such was the case in a meeting where alarming trends were being discussed, as if they indicated a metaphorical path to financial hell. To most of us the very term trend itself instills angst and concern. The speaker almost accusatorily announced an alarming trend in practice revenues over which I was largely responsible.

This time I was ready. I quietly remarked that what he was showing was not a trend. He challenged me and I replied that a trend is seven contiguous datapoints on the same side of the mean. These datapoints were anything but that. This event signaled that we physicians on the committee no longer had to accept information based on what we were merely told and expected to believe.

How many of us subject ourselves to false information because we really don’t know what we don’t know? How often do we take the initiative and time to learn what we need to know in order to be able to make sound decisions and protect ourselves from fake news?

We all want to do our best. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. The brutal truth is that unless we maintain healthy curiosity about everything in our world, we will be doomed to ignorance.

Richard E. Draper, a double board-certified emergency medicine physician, blogger, and speaker, and practices in the Kaleidoscope Weekly distribution area. The Healer’s Heart is based on his perceptions and observations of his experiences in the ER over his career. Any similarities to actual patients are purely 

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