Once relegated to a small corner of a very large conversation on our nation’s broken healthcare system, health IT safety concerns are now firmly in the spotlight – in part, due to the efforts of Dr. Robert Wachter, a renowned leader in patient safety. In recognition of Wachter’s constant efforts to “challenge the status quo” and improve the quality of care, Modern Healthcare has named him the 2015 Most Influential Physician Executive in the U.S.
Medicine, our most intimately human profession, is being dehumanized by technology, explains Wachter. Doctors are no longer looking their patients in the eye, and often find themselves treating the patient’s electronic data rather than the flesh-and-blood person. While computers are preventing many medical errors, they are also causing new ones, some of them whoppers.
In his just-published book “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age” (McGraw-Hill, April 2015) – a “must read for all healthcare professionals” and Amazon’s top seller in healthcare delivery – Wachter offers an unvarnished view of the early days of healthcare’s transformation from analog to digital, a thus far untold tale of modest wins and unexpected surprises and failures. However, as Wachter explained in a recent interview with Healthcare IT News, he is optimistic about the future state of health IT.
In the process of writing the book, Wachter asked the nearly 100 people he interviewed, ranging from CEOs of healthcare technology companies to cancer patients on peer-to-peer websites: “Where does this end up if we play our cards right?” Their answers – no matter their views on other questions and issues – almost always converged on the same pretty hopeful place. “I came to realize that place is within our reach. The real question is whether we get there in five years or 25,” Wachter says. “The choices we make will determine that.”
Wachter is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at the UCSF Medical Center. He writes frequently on health safety issues for publications including The Wall Street Journal and Health Affairs, as well as his own blog.