ClinicianHealth CareNews

The Data Does Not Work

Recently prof. Antoinette de Bont became full professor at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands. Part of the Dutch tradition is to give an ‘Oratie’ – a lecture to define your agenda and field of research as full professor at the University.

Professor de Bont is my cousin. So you can imagine that as family, we are very proud of her achievements! What makes my relationship with Antoinette even more special is that we not only went ice-skating many winters, but that now years later, we share the same passion and interest for innovation in healthcare.

The title of Prof. Antoinette de Bont’s Oratie is “De data doen het niet” –translated “The data does not work”. A trailer of her oratie lecture (in Dutch):


Plenty of data available

Among others, professor de Bont reminds us that there is plenty of data in healthcare. However, without humans interpreting the data, nothing is going to happen or change. It takes coordination and teamwork to collect and act upon the available data.

She also warns us about having too high expectations about artificial intelligence and machine learning. Machines are much better than humans to find trends in mountains of data. However, if we fail to understand how these machines work and came to their conclusion, we will not be able to work with them.

In her lecture professor de Bont uses a great illustration of the first automatic high-speed Xerox copier. Not knowing what the machine could do, what input it needed, or output it would produce, the machine was worthless to its first-users in 1977. Their struggles to make sense of this “machine” are nicely captured in the ethnography study below:


More to come

Professor Antoinette’s mission is to use of big data to increase efficiency in health care. The research question that defines her agenda is: how do interdependencies between people and technology explain innovation in health care.

For more about her research agenda: