Sunday, 9 February 2014

Deliberate Redundancy and Intelligent Management


Redundancy (slack in the system) is normal in the human body. Nature has provided the human body far too much capacity than what is needed for day to day living. Most of the capability of the human body lies unused for most of the time. Human anatomy is full of many muscles all doing small parts of the same movement and/or many muscles doing same or nearly same movements. There is often two of many organs. Two eyes may be needed for depth perception but two nostrils, two breasts, two ovaries, two testicles cannot be explained within the logic of efficient systems. It is also not just the anatomy, the way the anatomy works also reflects enormous over capacity of human systems. About one eighth of the kidney or one seventh of the liver is adequate for normal living. Similarly much lesser length of colon or much lesser sperm counts will still be abundantly compatible with digestion or reproduction. The scope of the surplus is truly amazing, for instance every part of the body is pain and pressure sensitive – we are used to it but is that needed or if we were building a system would we not consider that as wasted resource. There are many ways of providing energy and and many ways to eliminate end products. Well amazing is probably and understatement.

It is normal for the human body to have excessive capacity with only part utilisation at most times - i.e. functioning as though it was an inefficient system for the majority of the time. Even after doing so the human system needs significant amounts of rest and recovery at regular intervals at low utilisation levels and certainly much higher rest and recovery when systems are stressed (achy muscles and joints even after exercise and worse effects after fever, or surgery etc)

Interestingly that is how the rest of the nature is. There is more water than needed, more sun than needed, more air than needed, one could even argue that there is more food than needed (though it is distributed unevenly and too much is wasted).

My argument is that such a pattern is actually essential for healthcare systems. There is a lesson for healthcare professionals on how to manage healthcare systems which care for redundantly built humans. We should not be averse to a system with significant redundancy deliberately built into it and managed intelligently.

High reliability, high efficiency, narrow variation is valid for system architecture, system performance and output delivery in mechanised or electronic or technology based systems (i.e. machines). Humans dealing with healthcare will almost never be high reliability, high efficiency or narrow variation - they only give the impression of being so. In other words healthcare systems with human beings showing high 'efficiency' may well turn out quite simply to be an illusion. It is simply anti-natural, anti-anatomical, anti-physiological and anti-biochemical - humans are not built to perform that way. Well, most of the humans anyway with the few exceptions of outliers such as high end sports persons, highly narrow specialists, etc – even they need much 'down' time.

However, it is imperative to insist that a high redundancy system simply cannot mean that delivery, output and/or outcome can be all over the place in healthcare - that would to put it simply - kill the ill; apart from causing significant morbidity.

So while the overall infrastructure is 'poor' by technology standards the output performance by humans delivering healthcare has to be pretty slick. A 'poor' 'system' (with high level of redundancy/slack, over-capacity and similar) has to deliver 'great' results. That is exactly what the human body does for us human beings - poor 'systems' delivering 'great' results.

That can only be done by building deliberate redundancy, planned slack in the system, over-capacity by design with specific high intelligence management. A large system which only uses small parts of it most of the time to deliver great results. A large system which kicks in fully only occasionally to cope with specific pressures and then goes to rest again. A large system that under extreme crisis shuts off most of its activity and concentrates on the vital few to survive and once it survives goes back to its normal (for human) inefficient (as per technology definitions) self.

This will require a completely contrary understanding to the one that we currently possess, We will need a new kind of intelligent management that may be non-existent right now. We need to learn from nature about the need for redundancy and over-capacity to live a normal life. Any one who is unable or refuses to learn from nature will be defeated by it – we cannot afford that in healthcare as our failure will affect our patients more than us.


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