Without question, technology can – and does – bring improved efficiency to our lives. In many sectors, including healthcare, digital innovation continues to streamline many routine tasks, whether it’s booking a cab, renting a house, or finding a restaurant. But can we foresee a future where computers will actually supplant clinicians? No, at least not any time soon, says Dr. Robert Wachter, a global authority on healthcare quality and safety, and the academic leader of the hospitalist specialty, the fastest growing field in the history of modern medicine.
For decades, technology has been touted as the cure for all of healthcare’s ills, but medicine has stubbornly resisted computerization. Until now. Over the past five years, and only after $30 billion in federal incentives, healthcare has finally gone digital. Yet so far the benefits have been more elusive, and the side effects more toxic, than anyone anticipated.
“We need to recognize that computers in healthcare don’t simply replace my doctor’s scrawl with Helvetica 12,” explains Wachter, one of the 50 most influential physician-executives in the U.S. “Instead, technology transforms the work, the people who do it, and their relationships with each other and with patients.”
His forthcoming book, “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age” (McGraw-Hill, April 2015), which has received considerable advance praise, delves deep into medicine’s evolving digital world. Dr. Wachter reminds us that the promise of technology in healthcare will be realized only if it enhances – but does not replace – the human touch. “Being Mortal” author Atul Gawande said of the book, “I kept thinking, ‘exactly’ while reading it,” and Abraham Verghese, author of “Cutting for Stone,” called it “simply brilliant,” adding that it “left me entertained, amazed, alarmed at times, but always engrossed.”
“My goal was to write something that would resonate with doctors, and nurses, and healthcare administrators, and people working in IT – with insiders…” said Wachter in a podcast for The Physician Effectiveness Project, “but would also be interesting and meaningful to a patient, or an interested consumer, or someone who is thinking about information technology in other industries and wondering why healthcare is so far behind.”
Wachter recently published extended versions of interviews with Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Gawande – two of the scores of interviews he conducted for the book – on his blog.
Named one of Doximity’s top #HCSM (healthcare communications and social media) influencers to follow in 2015, Dr. Wachter recently received the 2015 Distinguished Graduate Award from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, the school’s highest honor.