The power of networks

Last night I watched the PBS Frontline documentary "The Medicated Child" that aired this week. Child psychiatrists are giving four million children (in the US) multiple prescriptions for psychiatric drugs that have only been tested on adults. They have very little data to know if the diagnosis is correct, if the efficacy is there, or if side effects are benign. They are working in isolation and only getting funds for research from the manufacturers of the drugs.

These child psychiatrists are envious the pediatric oncologists. A decade ago, a cancer diagnosis for a child was a death sentence. The success rate for attempted cures was close to zero. Now the recovery rate is 90%. There have been changes in diagnosis, prescriptions and outcomes as a result of data monitoring and sharing.

Ten years ago, the child psychiatrists and clinics joined together into a network. Any child seeking treatment anywhere in the network was entered into the system. Their initial situation, symptoms, progress, diagnosis and outcomes were all recorded. Every member of the network could access the data, combine it with their own, analyze it with different hypotheses, watch for emerging trends and formulate new clinical trials.

This approach worked dramatically. It's further proof of the power of networks. It reminds me of the blogosphere.

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