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What should governments do when technology changes faster than regulations?

In PDCA on November 17, 2012 at 3:01 am

The original spark of of an idea for this posting came from an article I saw about a new Smartphone App to help people hail a taxi in NYC. This new App is illegal (of course). The argument goes that this new technology will allow people to pay a premium to get a taxi–thus creating a two-tiered system. You can read the article and form your own opinion, but it seems that NYC would benefit from requiring the software to be licensed and validated as well. This would give the city more information and control over taxis. The city could also use this technology to enforce the pricing, make the process of hailing a cab safer, and make it easier for those with disabilities to get the special services they need. Governments are even slower to change than the people, but technology is forcing the issue.

Just a little background music for you to listen to…

In a LinkedIn subgroup I manage (Medical Devices: QA/RA), one of the members recently posted a discussion related to the following article in MIT Technology Review. The proliferation of viruses in hospital computer networks is just one example of the many ways in which technology is moving faster than our government’s ability to write legislation to protect public safety. When database software was first developed, a change to the software version could easily corrupt the database. A few decades later everything has changed except the perception by the regulators. Now the database is total separate from the software. There is even bridge software that allow multiple software applications to interact and update the database(s) simultaneously. No company, or hospital, wants a separate database for billing, patient records, and lab test results. We need enterprise solutions that interact with a robust central database. Banning personnel from downloading updates for the operating system and installing security software is irresponsible and demonstrates the magnitude of ignorance on the part of policy makers.

More than one billion smartphones and tablets will be purchased in 2013, and the number of smartphones already exceeds the planet’s population. My 4-year old is more adept with a tablet computer than my parents–and has been fighting with her older brother and sister for possession of Grandma’s iPad for the past two years. Parents have learned that we can’t keep up with the pace of technology, but we have adapted. We use monitoring technology to keep track of what our children are doing on-line. When we see a disturbing trend, we re-educate our children about unseen risks and block their access when needed.

Governments need to accept that it is no longer possible to predict what direction technology will take our healthcare, transit systems or commerce in general. Monitoring of current trends is the only realistic path. When we can monitor trends, we can make educated decisions on what appears to be safe and what appears to be taking people in the direction of harm.

I am a strong proponent of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model for continuous improvement.

English: Plan-Do-Check-Act Deming circle, also...

English: Plan-Do-Check-Act Deming circle, also known as the Shewart cycle, since Deming claimed he took the idea from him. Later Deming changed it to be Plan-Do-Study-Act, but the first version seems more popular and has become the defacto standard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Governments need to be more open to letting people and companies try “Doing” on a pilot or trial basis. As a pre-requisite to “Doing”, governments can insist upon submission of implementation plans that include monitoring and training provisions. The implementation plans and the training are the “Plan” part of PDCA. The  initial trial/pilot is the “Do” part of PDCA, and implementation of a monitoring program is the “Check” part of PDCA. New and revised regulations should be initiated only after monitoring data has been analyzed, because this is the “Act” part of PDCA. As with any good PDCA cycle, the new and revised regulations should include a plan for training, implementation and monitoring the affects of the regulations. In this way, governments can continuously improve regulations at the pace it is needed and when it is needed. The metrics will also ensure that new regulations are more objective and less politically driven.

If you would like to see the comments others have made regarding the article in MIT Technology Review, please join the following LinkedIn subgroup: Medical Device: QA/RA. You will need to become a member of the parent group (Medical Device Group)–if you are not already one of the 140,000+ members connected with Joe Hage.

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