Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Of "Antifragile" and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs)

Emboldened by yesterday's economics post on the U.S. "headwinds" that are marginalizing the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, the Disease Management Care Blog now turns it's attention to a magnificent new word:


That's the term invented by Nassim Taleb in his latest book. In it, he counterintuitively suggests that political, business and economic systems can benefit from recurring and unexpected mishaps. The sucess of antifragile systems is based on their fragile constituents that rise and fall on their own merits. One "antifragile" example is the local restaurant industry in many large cities. It may be beset by recurring single unit bankruptcies but it ultimately provides the marketplace with a dependable set of gustatory options every Saturday night. 

The converse are "fragile" systems that are ironically made up of highly stable individual units. An example is the highly regulated U.S. banking industry, which amply demonstrated its collective vulnerabilities in the 2008 crash.

The terms "antifragile" and "fragile" speak to the threat of unknown and potentially catastrophic "Black Swan" risks, such as torrential superstorms and toxic mortgage assets.  Many New York restaurants rebounded (by candlelight), while the banking industry almost took down the entire U.S. economy.

The erudite Dr. Taleb often turns to mythology, molecular biology, physics, history and more to make his points, but the DMCB is naturally thinking cinema.

In The Godfather, after the Corleone family goes to the mattresses, Clemenza explains periodic war between the New York families is a good thing because it gets rid of a lot of "bad blood" (the Mafia is antifragile).

In the silly Underworld vampire movies, chief bloodsucker Viktor condemns the successful liaison between his race and the werewolf "Lycans" as an "abomination" that upsets centuries of rigidly enforced stability (vamps are fragile).

In one of the Star Trek movies, engineer Montgomery Scott deftly disables a new star ship after pointing out "that the more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain" (warp drive-enabled space ships are fragile). 

And finally, Pandora's ecosystem in the movie Avatar may be teeming with all manner of scary survival of the fittest, but its antfragility is what ultimately prevails against the despicably avaricious humans.

Which makes the DMCB naturally worry about fragility of accountable care organizations, which are arguably comprised of highly stable hospitals and clinics in an intensely regulated environment.    While you may be tempted to tut-tut the DMCB's antifragile infatuations, recall AHERF's spectacular failure and the Medicare Health Support Demonstration disaster.  When they started out, both were the darlings of health policy makers and both were torpedoed by large and unexpected catastrophes that were only identified in retrospect.

What Black Swans could take some ACOs down?

Many savvy DMCB readers may disagree about ACOs, but you have to admit, "antifragile" will be a great word guaranteed to impress colleagues, co-workers and bosses.  For example

"Broadening our provider network to those three new counties may be risky, but it'll make our managed care organization more antifragile!"

"Buying a single source electronic record will reduce our health system's antifragile competitive advantage!"

"By limiting my access to modern electronic gadgetry, the DMCB spouse is risking a system-wide entertainment failure of epic antifragile proportions!"

And so it goes......



Jeff said...

In other words, survival of the fittest.

Jaan Sidorov said...

Not exactly. It's the trade off between large complicated systems that really crash and burn (where fewer survive) vs. smaller distributed systems where any havoc is contained.