Peer Review in a World of Automation

February 17, 2016 | Posted in Uncategorized

Our world is turning more and more toward automation of seemingly everything. A quick swipe of a credit card is faster than dealing with a cashier. It seems that almost everything is available to be purchased online and delivered to your door within hours if you so desire. You can bid for goods and services online and save time by having tasks completed without ever having to interact with a single person. And healthcare is no exception: Computers, electronic records, automated processes, and even robots are infiltrating hospitals from every angle. Yet, some processes, and therefore the people tasked with completing them, remain steadfastly “human”. And so they should. Peer review is one such process. Though the option to automate peer review is intriguing, the lack of inherent judgment of computers puts any meaningful automation of peer review far from reality.

I was recently approached by a start-up company regarding a possible partnership. They have developed a heavily automated external peer review system, and were looking to gain traction in the market. Following our discussion, I couldn’t help but realize how important people, and even more so the “right” people, are to effective peer review. Though utilizing technology is essential to what we do at NorthGauge, automating critical processes would result in a loss of judgment, integrity, credibility, discipline, and very much needed creativity, all of which are essential to doing it right. For example, by automating reviewer selection, you lose the assurance that the reviewer matches the physician under review on many critical levels beyond board certification. It’s imperative that the reviewing physician is a credible expert with respect to the unique challenges facing the physician under review. Another challenge is that automation and customization do not go hand in hand. No two peer review projects are the same. Although we strive to provide consistency across reports to ensure clarity, unique needs often require a unique approach, ultimately requiring human involvement. The human element, and the expertise and judgment that come along with it, is not only necessary, it’s essential.

NorthGauge provides solutions for each new challenge. We are acutely aware of what is at stake with every peer review project we support. We recognize that peer review is so much more than a mechanical process and that what is at the core of peer review cannot be automated. We provide critical analysis and decision support on the front end to ensure the review itself will be a helpful tool for the specific circumstances faced by hospital leadership. This also helps keep costs in check and ensures that no unnecessary reviews are pursued. Once final reports are delivered, we provide continued support and guidance, leading up to and including fair hearing involvement when necessary. These are only a few examples of many areas where a highly automated process falls short.

There is simply no room for a one-size-fits-all approach with physician peer review. Although we continue to use technology to our advantage, our purpose is to use it to leverage our expertise and efficiency, but never at the expense of integrity. To get it right, peer review has to be labor intensive. The people behind NorthGauge will always ensure that each individual project is completed with unrivaled integrity and discipline. It’s amazing what computers can do; but we have to be realistic about what they can’t do.