Numbers Need Context

Since early September, my 91-year young father has been fighting congestive heart failure. I’m happy to report he is now doing well.

In October, he needed to be admitted to a hospital to stabilize his condition. Following the hospitalization, he went to a place for cardiac rehabilitation for 20 days to rebuild his physical strength.

I recently took him to his cardiologist appointment and challenged the cardiologist for citing certain test results as “normal” based on what our family had been told by other physicians. I learned a lot.

  • What’s normal for the average person is not normal for someone with cardiac disease.
  • The cardiologist pointed out that his waiting room is filled with people who are experiencing some difficulty related to their heart and/or circulation. No one is there for preventative care; all are there for treatment of an existing condition.
  • When the cardiologist reports certain test result results as “normal,” he’s stating they are normal for that particular patient, not necessarily normal for the general population. This is an important distinction.

When physicians outside the practice of cardiology look at the same lab reports, they don’t have the same context as the cardiologist so the numbers can be misinterpreted.

For example, one physician informed us that dad was in “renal failure” and wanted to know if we knew this. We did not. This made us angry and distrustful of the cardiologist for not letting us know.

The cardiologist informed us that dad really wasn’t in “renal failure” despite what the lab report identified. He explained that dad was not in any danger for needing dialysis. Congestive heart failure puts pressure on the kidneys. Once the congestive heart failure episode is resolved, the lab reports will lean more towards normalcy.

Why am I writing about this?

It’s important to understand that numbers need to be evaluated in the right context for proper interpretation.

Are the metrics you look at in your business giving you an accurate depiction of your business?

Thought for the week:

“The single most important distinction in life… is to distinguish between an opportunity to be seized and a temptation to be resisted.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

What do you think? I welcome your comments! Dave Gardner

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