Leaders of COVID-19 Failed To See the ‘Whole Picture’

September 4, 2020

Brent James, M.D., M.Stat., the quality and patient safety expert, finds fault with singular focus on COVID-19. Watch James' interview in this part two of three video series.

Human beings are “wonderful pattern matchers,” Brent James, M.D., M.Stat., the quality and patient safety expert, said in a video interview with Managed Healthcare Executive® this week.

“But when we ask people to assess patterns, probabilities, we are absolute crap. I don’t care how smart you are, how well trained you are.”

“I have as much as experience as anybody at this, and I am still crap,” James added.

But James said “good leaders have to look at the whole picture and balance the risks back and forth.” And James says he believes that has been in short supply in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have had some people in the space, when challenged on this, have basically said, ‘Hey, my only assignment is Covid. I am going to focus exclusively on Covid.’”

“And I tell you, and I do mean this as a criticism,” James continued, “when I see somebody say that I realize they are saying, ‘Don’t look at me as a leader. I am not going to position myself as a leader.’ I think you have to see the whole picture.”

Asked whether he was referring to Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, James sidestepped.

“You be the judge. It is a number of people in leadership roles who needed to see the whole picture.”

James said early data show that heart disease mortality rates are increasing. International health efforts dealing with nutrition and malaria may have suffered with so much focus on COVID-19. James spoke of a secondary price to the pandemic.

“Don’t get me a wrong. I am not saying that Covid is not important. It is. I am just saying, sorry, you gotta keep an eye on the whole picture. “

Did we fail to do that?

“We are human beings and human beings, by definition, are imperfect,” answered James. “But we didn’t do as well as we could in my opinion — not just in the U.S. but worldwide.” 

It is “fascinating topic” to look at why people tend to focus on a single risk, James said. “It seems to be hardwired in our evolutionary brain.”