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Ebola shows the mundane, not technology, will protect us

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Ebola shows the mundane, not technology, will protect us

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Technology has driven our economy and made our country powerful, but tech alone is proving to be insufficient to stop the spread of Ebola. The case of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had contact with an ebola patient four days before travel to the U.S., shows just how much the mundane matters. Duncan was supposed to be screened before leaving his country, and that screening should include questions about contact with ebola patients. Duncan helped carry a highly contagious woman to the hospital just four days before leaving. Either it wasn’t asked or was and it didn’t make a difference.

Once in Dallas, Duncan arrived at a hospital with symptoms of ebola but somehow doctors were unaware that he had recently traveled from one of the West Africa countries where ebola is spreading rapidly. He was sent home, highly infectious. In both cases, humans and procedures were critical to our defense against the disease, not technology, and the system failed. Do we trust too much in technology and its ability to protect us? Probably. From a Reuters blog:

America is a society enamored with technology. This helps explain the public’s continuing fascination with new drugs and vaccines as the best way to fight Ebola. In medicine, this love of technology has partly encouraged the overuse of laboratory and radiology testing at the expense of doctors taking the time to talk to their patients. Some physicians even seem to have forgotten how to perform a thorough physical exam.

Since the ebola crisis started, we’ve been reassured that what’s happening in Africa couldn’t happen here. Events this week show that without better process, it can. Does the lesson of ebola apply more broadly? Absolutely.

Success is connected to the mundane

The ebola outbreak highlights a bigger problem with over reliance on tech to solve problems. While new technology is bright and shiny, success is tightly connected to the mundane. The blocking and tackling that is necessary to protect us from ebola is just as necessary in every other part of life, including our work. Each incremental and not-so-sexy task we need to perform is an important step towards the goal. What seems like boring routine forms the building blocks of higher-level accomplishments. Those who won’t or can’t focus on the details are unlikely to get beyond a good idea. The world is full of good ideas and short on those able to execute.

Ebola is a tragic reminder of the power of the mundane. Hopefully, technology will come to the rescue with a vaccine, but in the meantime, success in controlling ebola will come from the everyday, sometimes-numbing tasks that are just as critical anywhere else in our lives.

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