Prehistoric Zealandia, the Thrill of Discovery, and Healthcare’s New Data Horizons

July 22, 2020

I find myself always delighted to read about scientific discoveries, particularly those that uncover surprising and intriguing realities that the general public had no idea of, before those discoveries took place. Here’s a great example: the ongoing discoveries that scientists have been making about the submerged continent of Zealandia in what is now the South Pacific.

As recently as June 23, new developments took place in this area. As CNN’s Jessie Yeung wrote on that date, “Under New Zealand, there lies a vast continent on the sea floor. Once part of the same land mass as Antarctica and Australia, the lost continent of Zealandia broke off 85 million years ago and eventually sank below the ocean, where it stayed largely hidden for centuries. Now, maps reveal new research about the underwater continent where dinosaurs once roamed—and allow the public to virtually explore it. GNS Science, a New Zealand research institute, published two new maps and an interactive website on Monday [June 22]. The maps cover the shape of the ocean floor and Zealandia’s tectonic profile, which collectively help tell the story of the continent’s origins.”

And the scientific discovery process itself has been fascinating. As an unsigned January 3, 2019 article in Nature notes, “The realm that has been called Earth’s youngest continent rides atop rocks similar to those beneath landmasses billions of years older. The most ancient continents on Earth are formed of crust that dates back to the Archean eon, which spanned from 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago. Below this Archean crust lie deeper rocks that clumped together, melted partially and then thickened to create a stable root for the continents above…. A team led by James Scott at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, explored the geological history of Zealandia,” which “began to take shape around 85 million years ago, making it relatively young.”

And the Wikipedia entry on Zealandia notes that “The land mass may have been completely submerged by about 23 million years ago, and most of it (93 percent) remains submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean. With a total area of… 1,900,000 square miles), it is the world’s largest current microcontinent, more than twice the size of the next-largest microcontinent and more than half the size of the Australian continent.”

The exciting thing in all branches of science is that there are always new horizons, new things to discover. And the scientists doing the discovery find great satisfaction in uncovering new realities, as they inform the world about important new findings.

There surely is a certain type of adventure unfolding right now in healthcare, as the leaders of patient care organizations increasingly leverage data analytics to support their work in value-based care delivery, even as they also use analytics to optimize their operations in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not exciting in the way that pure-scientific discovery is, but it does involve a great deal of investigation and constant trial-and-error efforts—and a lot of “eureka” moments and discoveries—just as scientific exploration does. As this issue’s cover story (p. 6) notes, the U.S. healthcare delivery system is undergoing fundamental change right now, and the degree to which the leaders of patient care organizations find success in leveraging analytics will help to determine which organizations thrive—or even survive. And, along the way, provider leaders will make, yes, exciting discoveries, as they leverage data to improve care quality, care management, operational and supply chain efficiency, bed management, and other areas. It’s a new world out there—in U.S. healthcare as well as under the Pacific Ocean. Who knows where the next generation of analytics tools will lead us?

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