A Fleeting Perception of Data

A Fleeting Perception of Data

For a child, words are magic. They reveal a relationship between what they see and say. The magic comes from the senses connecting.

For a patient earnestly researching their newly diagnosed medical condition, words hold a similar magic. The words connect what they are feeling with what they are learning.

In that moment, when a patient is absorbing the words, they become data – that concretizes into knowledge that defines what a patient considers to be facts. We come to know what we know by experiencing what we read until the words become the knowledge perceived. This is the power of words, and its potency in medicine.

During the pandemic, we saw lifelong relationships disentangle amid arguments over a jumble of words – prepublications, newsletters, and social media banter. The words determined what we believed, and subsequently how we behaved. What you read is what you know.

We see this as mostly a problem. Instead, we should see it as an opportunity. As a chance to glean what patients perceive in the moments the perceptions are crystallizing into facts. It may be a fleeting moment in time, but it is something medical researchers and health journalists alike should study. And it may prove more impactful than any long term dataset.

Healthcare is a series of experiences, transient and ephemeral. We only think that it is long lasting. But for many prevalent chronic conditions, the disease is defined not by long term management, but by short term decisions. Thoughts that appear in the moment lead to reflexive decisions – to eat cake or not, to exercise or press snooze one more time – that hold more sway in our health than any clinical guideline could ever suggest.

Our thoughts are a form of medicine, literally – for what we perceive becomes our health. So why not capture those moments? When what we read becomes what we believe. They are data points, only not what we think of as data in the traditional clinical sense, but as perceptions that can be gleaned through surveys.

When we couple them with healthcare articles, they reveal perceptions that form in patients when they are developing an understanding of their own health. Suppose we come across an article criticizing the fourth vaccine or second booster – however you want to characterize it – and in reading it, we evoke certain emotions or beliefs that influence how we think about vaccines. How insightful would it be to learn the thoughts that form in that moment of time? A survey, when timely placed, would glean such insight.

This is the power of coupling surveys with articles; you glean information with perception at the moment the two interact – at that moment of magic, when the connection first forms.

In all upcoming newsletters, we will couple a survey to each article, to glean these moments when readers connect with our articles. Truth be told, we are unsure of what specific value we will gain through this endeavor, but we are certain it will prove valuable.

Data has reached a point of diminishing returns in recent years, particularly when the pandemic proved how little sway data carries when compared to the beliefs people hold about their health. Those beliefs are perceptions, which so far have been difficult to discern with any particular regularity. We only see them when they are fully formed.

This is likely because researchers are uncertain of where to look. There is no clinical study design or research technique that produces the findings we need. Precisely because what we need is not found in the science of medicine, but in its art – the art of a well-timed survey.

We hope our loyal readers see the potential value to be gleaned in these surveys, and the value in juxtaposing surveys with healthcare articles. And we thank you all in advance for participating.


We currently have four open surveys, two about health journalism, and two about the opioid epidemic and addiction policy. Please take the time to complete and then share the surveys.

Are you a biased reader?
Do you trust what you read?
How do you feel about the revised CDC opioid prescribing guidelines?
Do guidelines matter?
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