Over the past five years, healthcare has rapidly gone from a paper industry to a digital one. While this transition has been long anticipated, few people anticipated to the degree to which technology would lead to disgruntled doctors, unhappy patients, even new kinds of medical mistakes. Dr. Robert Wachter, rated earlier this year as the most influential physician executive in the U.S. by Modern Healthcare magazine, captures the current state of health IT in his new book, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, (McGraw Hill, 2015) which is already a New York Times science bestseller.
In a recent book review in The New York Times, Abigail Zuger compares Wachter’s attitudes toward healthcare digitization to that of Janus, the Roman god whose two faces on a single head represent wistful longing and optimistic futurism. “Dr. Wachter’s mood is all over the place: He is hopeful, doubtful, hopeful again,” writes Zuger. “He concludes with the very reasonable epiphany that digitalized health care, still in its very early days, may someday be the success we have dreamt of, rather than the mess we have created.”
The Times review calls Wachter, “an exceptionally good, fluent writer.” Part of the challenge, Wachter notes, is that “you can try hard to reimagine what your work will be like in a technological environment, but it’s almost impossible to do so until you’re there” – and we are. As a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at UCSF Medical Center, he has dealt directly with the trials and tribulations of technology’s influence on medicine – as both a practicing clinician and a national expert on medical mistakes. You can hear more from Wachter on the digital difficulties in healthcare in his recent interview on NPR’s “The Pulse,” broadcast on WHYY.