death (and why making factual information available isn’t a bad thing, unless you’re too dumb to understand it.)

I generally believe that making factual information available is never a bad thing. People should make informed decisions based on the “truth” (factual information) and having additional “truth” (data) can’t hurt, right? But I’m a statistical programmer. I deal with “truth” (data) all day long. And I forget that most people either don’t deal with “truth” (data) all day or they don’t have the available resources (i.e. “intelligence”) to interpret the “truth” accurately.  This becomes obvious when Fox news gets a copy of the “Truth” (data) and publishes something crazy about how the world is coming to an end because every progressive-democrat-women (probably all lesbians because no self respecting straight women would be a democrat) are having casual sex just so they can suck the “baby” out with a flowbee for the sole purpose of upsetting Jesus and bringing about the Apocalypse. And they back it up with “Truth” (statistics) that are totally taken out of context.   I swear.  Google “Fox News” and “Abortion” and the results are scary.  And I reconsider my opinion that making factual information available is never a bad thing.   Apparently people (and Fox News) don’t understand the difference between correlation and causation. And even if they DO understand the difference, they often don’t look at the information in the appropriate context (or have the knowledge to know what the appropriate context is). And it seems like the more “emotional” the topic is, the less likely people are to interpret the “truth” (correlation) rationally.  So maybe only rational people should be allowed to have all the data (please note that I don’t actually believe this.  I still think that making factual information available is pretty much always a good thing – even when you are giving it to fox news and they are either too dumb to correctly present the data or they are just blatently misinterpreting it because it suits their needs that way). 

Sadly, I deal with “emotional” healthcare data which often gets taken out of context, misinterpreted or twisted in some weird way so that it is unrecognizable and in no way resembles the original “factual information” (I blame Fox News).   I started my career analyzing Substance Use in Veterans.  My office overlooked the Methadone Maintence Clinic.   I moved to a new position that involved assessing hospital mortality rates (because Center for Medicare/Medicaid services (CMS) was considering making risk-adjusted mortality rates for physicians and hospitals publically available).   And no hospital wants people to be able to see that patients die there despite the fact that many people don’t *want* to die at home and go to the hospital specifically to die.  I mean, do you really want your loved ones to clean up your dead body and the feces that you expel when you die?  Wouldn’t you rather have some anoymous hospital tech clean up your death poopies?  Aren’t you glad that your loved ones died at a hospital so you didn’t have to clean up their death-poopies?  But you don’t think about that when you  look at hospital mortality rates.  You think “OMG people DIE there!  They must be a crappy hospital”. 

Anyways, after spending 2 years reporting on hospital mortality rates, I had apparently found my niche market (healthcare analysis of crazy controversial topics that no one else wants to deal with?).   My third Statistical Programming position was at a newly created government center examining Suicide in Veterans (one more topic that no one wants to touch).  Male veterans in the general U.S. population are twice as likely as their civilian peers to die by suicide.  Sad, huh?  Upon leaving that position, I found what may have been the only more controversial healthcare topic than Suicide in Veterans.   Of course I can’t tell you what it is, or you could hunt me down and kill me.  But I promise, its not abortion, but its even more controversial than Veteran Suicides during a controversial “war”.

So, while I totally believe that making factual information available is never a bad thing, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with data that gets a lot of “emotional” attention. And I’m overwhelmed by how frequently the news media, (and then the general population) take “emotional” healthcare topics and completely misinterpret the data.   Think for a moment about Swine Flu and the media attention it has received.  National Geographic states “Experts like Johns Hopkins’s Pekosz and RTI’s Layton say there’s currently no reason to lock yourself up in the house” but fox news says the swine flu “entered a dangerous new phase Monday as the death toll climbed”  DOoooooooommmmmmed.  I mean there are an annual average of 41,400 deaths in the US from influenza (regular flu).   Swine flu now has 80 deaths internationally.  Clearly Fox is not sensationalizing things when they suggest we are DOOOOOOOOOMMMMED.  DOooOOOOMMMMMMED, I tell you.  This is why I hate Fox News (and other organizations that sensationalize things that aren’t sensational).  And 80 deaths DOES seem bad.  Unless you look at IN CONTEXT. 

Anyways, that wasn’t really my main point. Perhaps partly because of my career path, but also because of current situations in my personal life, I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers and touchy health care subjects like death. And while there are probably a myriad of things that have created my “death-centric” current mindset, there are two main reasons for the focus. So I’m devoting some posts to death and healthcare and possibly my own personal brand of crazy for the following reasons:

  1. There has been a cluster of Caltrain suicides. Suicide clusters and copycat suicides fascinate me. I’m not sure if this is because I spent so much time doing analysis of suicide data, because I’ve had two people close to be commit suicide, or because I have “treatment resistant major depression”.  But suicide fascinates me. And suicide clusters / copycat suicides are even more interesting.
  2. There was a recent news article about the Medicare (CMS) making mortality rates for physicians and hospitals publically available.  And there has been a lot of media coverage of healthcare in general in the US lately.  And, having spent quite a bit of time assessing mortality/healthcare data, perhaps I have strong opinions. And (after working with one of the hospice coordinators) I think the US has a really unhealthy attitude towards death (and things that relate to death, like hospice care). And it might be one of the reasons that our healthcare is so screwed up. But really, the major reason that I have been thinking about death/hospice/healthcare at this particular moment is that my grandpa (who has Alzheimer’s and Cancer) is being moved to hospice. And on a rational level I realize that this is probably the right decision, but I am devastated.  And I use this blog to process my emotions (because contrary to popular belief, I am neither a Robot nor Noam Chomsky). 

This is already too long. If you care more about my current death-centric ramblings, the next post is on crazy suicide clusters and Caltrain. The following post is on screwed up healthcare and US views of death/hospice (with some anecdotes about the most wonderful pant-less Irishman to ever tell his granddaughter she had a lovely ass). Or maybe the hospice post will be first. Or maybe I will be too emotional to actually write either (or at least the hospice one). But you should check back, just in case.

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