Who among us hasn’t been wowed by the technology on our desktop and in our pocket? But there is one field – arguably our most important industry – in which the digital revolution is stumbling: healthcare. One state-of-the-art hospital in Phoenix even highlighted the lack of an electronic medical record in a recruiting ad for physicians. Only in healthcare, it seems, could the absence of computers be a prime selling point.
In a riveting opinion piece just published in The New York Times, Dr. Robert Wachter, a global authority on healthcare quality and safety, describes “Why Health Care Tech is Still So Bad.” Pointing to the $30 billion of federal incentive payments that has finally transformed healthcare into a digital industry, he writes, “Healthcare has been like a car whose spinning tires have finally gained purchase, so accustomed to staying still that we were utterly unprepared for that first lurch forward.”
Wachter, author of the forthcoming “Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age” (McGraw-Hill, April 2015), is far from a Luddite. Healthcare, our most information intensive industry, is beset by inconsistent quality, backbreaking costs and whopping errors, some of them fatal. “We will never make fundamental improvements in our system without the thoughtful use of technology,” he argues. “Despite the problems, the evidence shows care is better and safer with computers than without them.”
But how long will we wait before the promise of information technology in healthcare is fully realized? One of the lead engineers for IBM’s Watson told Wachter that the Jeopardy-beating computer team’s goals in healthcare were far more modest than one might have expected. “A technology that physicians suddenly can’t live without,” he said. Not some magical holographic physician. Just an essential tool.
Hear more of Wachter’s perspectives on electronic medical records and these early days of digital healthcare on the National Public Radio segment, “Sharing Patient Records Is Still A Digital Dilemma for Doctors.” An excerpt of “The Digital Doctor,” slated to publish April 7, will run for five days on Medium.com beginning March 30. You might also be interested in watching this video of Wachter talking about the key themes of the book.