It might seem that health care and professional baseball have nothing in common. After all, the best hitters in the world succeed less than half the time, a result that would put doctors out of practice on their first day of work.
Look a little deeper, though, and there are striking parallels — a theme highlighted Thursday by a baseball executive at a conference in La Jolla.
Both fields rely on teams of highly trained individuals to accomplish their missions, and both require quick decision-making informed by the best research available.
While there is surely more at stake in the operating room than at the ballpark, both industries generate reams of data that can be analyzed to find insights that can help improve performance.
Information analysis has revolutionized baseball, and the same sort of upheaval is arriving in medicine. The trick in health care is to get physicians and providers to augment their intuition and experience with data when they're determining which tests to order and which therapies to pursue.
In this regard, baseball is far ahead. Today, data drives decisions from the front office down to the scouts visiting prospects.
Paul DePodesta, vice president of player development for the New York Mets, has been at the center of the revolution since using statistics to help the cash-strapped Oakland A's improve their odds without chasing budget-busting contracts.
DePodesta, who lives in San Diego with his family despite his current job in New York, spoke to health care experts Thursday during the opening stretch of the mHealth Summit. The conference, a three-day event run by the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, is designed to explore how mobile technology can transform medicine.
DePodesta, whose work helped inspire the book and 2011 movie "Moneyball," said he was influenced by "The Patient Will See You Now," the patient-centric treatise on the future of medicine by Dr. Eric Topol, director of the institute.
"I think there are tremendous parallels between what has happened in baseball over the last 15, 20 years and what is beginning to happen in medicine now," DePodesta said.
Baseball used to focus on statistics that did not necessarily predict which players would ultimately become successful in the major leagues, he said.
He explained that changing the way players were scouted and signed to contracts — which included focusing on relevant-but-obscure statistics such as on-base plus slugging, a measure that quantifies a player's ability to get on base and hit with power — came down to a fundamental question.
"We asked ourselves, 'If we weren't already doing it this way, is this the way we would solve it?' " DePodesta said.
He believes this question applies equally to health care — and to everything else, really.
"Think about it. Why is the work day 9 to 5? Why is the workweek Monday to Friday? Why do we still have an Electoral College?" DePodesta said.
He noted that processes arise from specific circumstances and often linger long after those circumstances have changed.
Such is the case in health care, where it is increasingly possible to manage a much wider range of conditions outside of the hospital. New technologies make it possible to conduct patient visits with "video chat" systems and using remotely accessed digital tools to diagnose various conditions.
Yet, most health care is still delivered in a doctor's office — the same way it has been for decades.
After hearing DePodesta speak, Dr. Steven Steinhubl, the institute's director of digital medicine, said the question-everything approach is exactly what's needed to transform medicine. The entire system does not always have to place doctors at the center of the treatment web, he said.
"Today, things are really built around the physician's convenience and less around what's needed by the patient," Steinhubl said. "What we need is the courage to ask ourselves, 'If we were starting fresh, is this still the way we would do it?' "
And just as it was the case for baseball, he said, the health care industry must be willing to make big changes — even if that means fewer patients checking into hospitals.