When I was in my pharmacology class this morning, I realized that the instructor was presenting a classic relational database management system problem: the many-to-many relationship. He said that all of us in nursing school must know our drugs backwards and forwards. I know how to model that! There are so many things in both healthcare and higher education that could benefit from an appropriate application of technology.
As a student, I'd like to be able to start with a drug, a disease, a name of a bacteria, a side effect, or any other datum and see everything related to it, either graphically or in tabular format. I'd like technology to allow me to spend less time with data and more time with information. If my Excel skills were better, I'd start by making a pivot table of drugs and diseases. Ideally I'd have a data visualization tool, but that's way beyond what I have time for now. I wish I could take my PowerPoint slides from lecture and load them into a searchable database, but I'd settle for a parser that would extract all of the unique keywords from them.
As a future healthcare professional, I see plenty of opportunities for data mining. Such much data and so little information.
Healthcare IT has the added dimension of life and death. Medical mistakes and errors are a significant cause of death in the United States. I've learned a few interesting things about how to prevent mistakes. In science courses, students are taught to use trailing zeros to indicate precision. In pharmacology, trailing zeros are NEVER used. Writing 5.0 gm is considered dangerous. Using 5 gm is safer, research has found. The problem with 5.0 instead of 5 is that sometimes the decimal point isn't noticed or even worse, isn't written. If a drug has what is known as a narrow therapeutic index, if 5.0 gm is written and 50 gm is administered, the patient dies. For similar reasons, a leading zero is ALWAYS used it the quantity is less than one. Writing .5 gm is potentially unsafe, but writing 0.5 gm is safer. The leading zero helps call attention to the decimal point and prevent a fatal error. Computerized systems can provide an extra level of safety by checking dosages against safety limits. Both procedural and technical measures are necessary to keep the public safe.