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Galileo and Population Health

January 14, 2014

Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei pointed a telescope toward the sky and transformed how we view ourselves. What was remarkable about Galileo is that he was not the first to use a telescope. Dutch eyeglass manufacturers invented the telescope years earlier. He also was not the first to point a telescope toward the heavens. Englishman Thomas Harriot did that and described the moon as a flat disc. What Galileo did, however, was transform what we actually "see" and therefore the way in which we view ourselves in the universe. Trained as an artist, he studied the shadows of the moon over many days and was able to detect changes that allowed him to conclude that the moon was a sphere with its own three dimensional surface of craters and mountains. He also identified moons around Jupiter, and that the Milky Way was not a cloud but a group of individual stars. He concluded that not all objects orbit the earth as popularly thought, but that each planet and moon had their own orbital paths. Many prominent critics of Galileo were unable to accept a new worldview in spite of growing evidence.


Today we are in the midst of a transformation in healthcare with dramatic changes, moving from a system based on providing individual care to one based on improving the health of a population. Like Galileo, Baystate Health is not the first to have the tools of healthcare delivery, such as an integrated network of primary care, specialty care, hospitals, a VNA, and a health plan. Like Galileo, Baystate Health is not the first to think along these lines. Organizations such as the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and provider groups like Kaiser have started to point their "telescopes" to population health. Yet Baystate can be the leader in our state, and even nationally, in transforming the way we think about healthcare delivery... the way in which "see" ourselves.


Our healthcare delivery system can be a better model for the delivery of care to individuals and to populations. With improved integration of providers, payors and information, we have the ability to improve the health of the population. Using better data and a team approach to patient care, we can improve the individual's experience of care. This will be hard work that will require all of us to redesign our work, to be more proactive in caring for our patients, to work together across silos, and to share more information toward the mission of better care.


Yes, there will be critics who are unwilling to change their worldview, but my hope is that with increasing evidence, all of us will see the benefit to our patients and our society.


If Galileo could see our health system today, he would marvel at the technological advances we have made. He would also ask us to look more carefully at what we do now and ask us to question the status quo. Others in healthcare may already have the tools and the concepts, but here in the Pioneer Valley we have the ability to use these tools to truly see ourselves differently, as leaders of improved healthcare delivery.


As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions at We have joined the conversation on Twitter; find this newsletter and other great content @Baystate Health.