Can studies of bosses help us figure out how good sports managers are?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

The world would be a simpler place, although maybe a much more boring and predictable one, if every aspect of performance could be measured directly. My completely unoriginal thought here is that one of the reasons sports appeal to so many people is because they provide clarity. In a confusing, complex world where the NSA is sucking up our information like a Dyson vacuum sucks feathers in a henhouse, and we’re told this is for our own good, clarity can be refreshing.

The simple view of an athlete’s performance is that all the accolades (or jeers), all the milestones (or flops), all the accumulated statistical totals (or lack thereof) are because of that athlete’s ability: his or her drive, passion, training, and natural ability. And that performance is measured via the statistics each sport collects and chooses to honor and promote. Performance is right there, what more do you need? What more could you want? Continue reading

The Aussie pipeline to the slopes of British Columbia

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

So this past Christmas, I decided to go downhill skiing.  I’ve gotten away from the sport for a few years, and felt it was time for a reintroduction. The slopes are full of older skiers, so I know skiing is something I should be able to keep doing for a good while longer, as long as I don’t get too rusty. Also as long as my knees hold out. And to get back into it I figured a trip to Silver Star in British Columbia would be ideal. I last visited this ski area over ten years ago, but remembered being very impressed by the slopes, the snow, the people and the facilities.

I booked a trip and that was my first hint of an Aussie connection.  Everyone I spoke to on the phone had that distinctive twang that’s mangled in so many Outback Steakhouse commercials.  When I arrived on the 21st of December, almost every Silver Star employee I met had come from Down Under. Continue reading

What do labrador retrievers and NFL wide receivers have in common?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

A.  They’re both being studied via mobile tech to create their ethograms.

What’s an ethogram?  I had no idea until I saw this PLOSone paper on using inertial sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure the movements and behaviors of dogs, so as to create an ethogram, or collection of behaviors and actions, characteristic of labrador retrievers and Belgian Malinois.  For scientists studying the behavior and action patterns of different species, building an ethogram is essential to studies of animal behavior.  Without a standardized, objective catalog of behaviors, it can be easy for the perspectives of the observer to get in the way.  And it can make comparisons of data among different researchers (or coaches, as we’ll discuss in a bit) difficult.

And just as I was mulling over how that study shows the power of technology for behavioral research, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated came in the mail and I read a short, fascinating article by Tim Newcomb about how eight NFL teams have signed up with the company Catapult to integrate small GPS sensors into practice and game uniforms. This data allows a more accurate, granular and comprehensive view of how different receivers, for example, play the game.  Basically, building the receiver ethogram (using the term rather loosely). Sadly, this article is currently only in the print issue and not online that I can find.  But it’s at newsstands now.  You can go pick one up.  I’ll wait.

So let me delve into each of these articles a little more.

Continue reading

Biopharma should choose targets using a baseball-style draft

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

I was sitting around last evening checking out how the end of my fantasy baseball season is working out (for the record, first out of ten in one league and fourth in the league I wrote about here) and I starting thinking again about the parallels between baseball and drug development (which I previously wrote about here and here for example, and also Stewart Lyman has a nice piece on a similar theme here). And it hit me that there’s another way in which biopharma could take a  page from baseball: fantasy and Major League Baseball both.

Biopharma could institute a draft for drug targets.  And to explore this I’m going to employ the time-honored, not to mention trite and artificial, format of a series of questions and answers.

Continue reading

Transparency and the invisible hand in hospital and healthcare costs

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

One of the things that sometimes seems to get lost when people talk about the power of the market to create efficiency is that a free market requires that information be shared and freely available and understandable by everyone.  When information is withheld by one side or the other of a transaction, or when different customers for a service or product are unable to compare prices, the metaphor of the invisible hand breaks down.

You can see, this, interestingly enough, in sports as it relates to both the trading of players under contract and the signing of free agents.  Since I’m a baseball fan, let me link here to a discussion of research that’s been done looking at Major League Baseball.  The studies looked at players traded or signed by a different team as a free agent and how those players performed in subsequent years versus players whose original team re-signed them.  It turns out that players who switched teams did, indeed, perform more poorly relative to projections than players who stayed.  This suggests that the original teams have proprietary information that allows them to make better decisions about which players to retain.  Thus the market for baseball players isn’t quite free and efficient because of information asymmetry.

And unfortunately, information asymmetry is also rampant in other industries such as healthcare. Continue reading

The “good,” the “difficult” and the “reality”: patients in the digital age

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

With apologies to Sergio Leone.  And to you, for making you read that really bad pun.  Just move along.

In an engaging and thought-provoking perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Louise Aronson described her experience in getting treatment for her father, who was suffering from low blood pressure and other health issues.  Her father was admitted to the hospital and went through examinations and fluctuations in his health during his stay.  He seemed to stabilize but then his blood pressure dropped again and Dr. Aronson asked for someone to come and check on him.  The staff was polite but non-committal and she decided to perform an exam on him herself to check if he had internal bleeding.  He did, she obtained evidence, and her father received rapid care to prevent further blood loss. 

She relayed this story in the context of how health care providers often bin patients and their support networks into “good” and “difficult” categories, based on how much and how often those patients acquiesce rather than challenge or even seek information about ongoing treatments.  As she describes it, the staff “were polite, but their unspoken message was that they were working hard, my father wasn’t their only patient, and they had appropriately prioritized their tasks. ” Her message was that the medical profession needs a cultural shift,in which patients and their families whom are more actively engaged in their care are seen as an asset, not a detriment to medical practice.  She also suggested some practical elements that would help this, including tracking more clearly when patient engagement occurs and rewarding it through changes in billing codes and practices. Continue reading

What $85 million could get the NFL: thinking about the NFL concussion settlement

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

Yesterday the NFL and the NFL Players Association reached a settlement concerning compensation for concussions and other football-related injuries.  The impending lawsuit was brought by former NFL players who claimed, among other things, that the NFL downplayed the risk of concussions despite having knowledge of their effects and also did not do all it could to help former players.

The total amount earmarked for the settlement is reported to be $765 million dollars, with the vast majority ($675 million) in a fund to support former players and families in dealing with the aftermath of concussions.  Commentators have noted that this appears to be a great victory for the NFL.  First, the amount of money is less than many expected even with a settlement.  Second, the NFL did not have to go through discovery, which would have laid open exactly what the NFL did know about concussions and possible side effects, as well as potentially other damaging information that, once released in court, could never be private again.

It seems likely that those who were bringing forward the suit settled because they were motivated to help the most needy members of their group.  Many former NFL players are suffering dementia and lingering aftereffects from their playing days.  Some families of deceased players will also benefit.  The former player pool can’t really afford to wait for the long protracted time a trial and subsequent appeals would take since in the interim many would fall into poverty and even poorer health; some could also die. Continue reading