Robert Wachter, MD

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Futurist and Global Leader in Health Care Safety, Quality, Policy and Digital Technologies That Improve Delivery of Care; Father of the Hospitalist Field; Chair of the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco; New York Times Bestselling Author, “The Digital Doctor”

Biography

When the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in San Francisco in mid-March 2020, Dr. Robert Wachter – a practicing physician and Chair of the Department of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – jumped into action with colleagues and local leaders to help stem its spread. Hoping to avoid what cities like New York were then experiencing, Wachter shared daily tweets to keep the public and media informed. As a result, his team’s early, well-coordinated response paid off and, due to conflicting reports elsewhere, Wachter quickly became a trusted source for COVID news by more than 150,000 followers around the world.

It is not unusual for Dr. Wachter to be called upon to take the lead when the health and safety of patients, communities, providers and institutions are at stake. A globally recognized health care leader and futurist, Wachter has spent decades advocating for, developing and activating protocols that improve health care safety, quality and policies. His particular focus on the safe use of digital technologies in the delivery of care led to the publishing of his 2015 book, “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age.” The paradigm-shifting book offers an unvarnished view of the early days of health care’s digital transformation and a provocative exploration into what it will take to successfully shift from “disruption” to “disruptive innovation.”

“We need to recognize that computers in health care don’t simply replace my doctor’s scrawl with Helvetica 12,” Wachter noted. “Instead, they transform the work, the people who do it, and their relationships with each other and with patients…Sure, we should have thought of this sooner. But it’s not too late to get it right.”

Wachter wrote the book after seeing some early dangers and downsides related to the use of digital technologies, such as doctors looking at devices rather than into a patient’s eyes and patients receiving incorrect drug dosages. His pioneering work on behalf of patient safety can be credited with bringing together the best parts of caregiving and technology to improve quality standards and save lives.

A dynamic speaker and New York Times bestselling author, Wachter is renowned for his iconoclastic and often humorous insights into the changing world of health care. In 1996, he coined the term “hospitalist,” which refers to what became the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine.

Lessons from the Past, Hope for the Future

In all the tragedy of COVID-19, Dr. Wachter found a silver lining as hospitals and health care systems took advantage of digital tools in new ways through the implementation of telemedicine, new data sources and clinical dashboards. His latest talk on COVID-induced changes that will endure after the pandemic describes how the crisis led to certain practice changes that will profoundly influence the future of health care. As importantly, he describes other areas of need – including AI, interoperability, and robust programs to address disparities – in which he is skeptical about transformative change.

Wachter continues to educate the public and the profession on lessons from the crisis through academic and lay-oriented articles, conferences, social media, and frequent media appearances on national news shows including The Rachel Maddow Show, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. He also fills in as guest host of the popular Apple podcast “In the Bubble” which has about 1 million downloads a month.

While it is difficult to predict the next stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of health care, Wachter remains a foremost advocate of the Gretzky theory: skate to where the puck is going. In the setting of a pandemic, this vision is particularly crucial.

“COVID has been horrible and challenging, yet we are learning a lot,” says Wachter. “Every dimension of this crisis has offered valuable insights into health care, science, public policy, media, human behavior and culture — insights that will allow us to do better in the future.”

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Dr. Wachter is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, past president of the Society of Hospital Medicine (1999-2000) and past chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine (2012-2013). In 2004, he received the John M. Eisenberg Award, the nation’s top honor in patient safety. He is on the boards of the Lucian Leape Institute and The Doctors Company. He has also served on the health care advisory boards of several companies, including Google and Teladoc.

He is the author of over 250 articles and six books, including two bestsellers on the subject of safety and quality: “Understanding Patient Safety” (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2018 – third edition), the field’s leading primer, and “Internal Bleeding” (Rugged Land, 2005).

Modern Healthcare magazine has named him one of the 50 most influential physician executives in the U.S. 13 times, ranking him #1 in 2015. In 2020, his frequent tweets on COVID-19 were viewed more than 60 million times by over 150,000 followers and served as a trusted source of information on the clinical, public health and policy issues surrounding the pandemic.

Robert Wachter is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Media

In the Bubble: From the Frontlines Podcast

Why Should Vaccinated People Wear Masks? UCSF Expert Gives His Take.

July 21, 2021

Coronavirus Delta Variant ‘May Hit Us Pretty Hard’ This Fall. Here’s What You Need to Know (Video)

June 15, 2021

What Could Go Wrong as California Reopens: Variants, Vaccine Skepticism, Inequities

June 14, 2021

This Is The Most Dangerous Moment To Be Unvaccinated

April 19, 2021

Clearing the COVID News Clutter

March 2, 2021

Are the Vaccines Effective Against New COVID Variants? (Video)

March 2, 2021

San Francisco 49ers Consult Medical Experts to Bring Fans Back to Levi’s Stadium

March 2, 2021

New Vaccines, New Administration: Why We Need A Collective Effort

January 21, 2021

Four Ways to Fix the Vaccine Rollout

January 7, 2021

It’s Time to Consider Delaying the Second Dose of Coronavirus Vaccine

January 3, 2021

Wachter Believes World Will Enter ‘A Golden Era’ of Health IT

December 9, 2020

Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccines 'Breathtakingly Effective,' Says UCSF's Dr. Robert Wachter (Audio)

December 1, 2020

UCSF One of Seven California Hospitals to Begin Receiving Vaccine Doses Within Weeks (Video)

November 28, 2020

Los Angeles Times logo

How San Francisco Became a COVID-19 Success Story As Other Cities Stumbled

October 25, 2020

Los Angeles Times logo

Biden "Not Out of the Woods Yet" for Coronavirus, Experts Say, Despite Negative Test

October 2, 2020

Next Phase ‘Wildly complicated,' Says Prominent UCSF Doctor

May 5, 2020

San Francisco is Beating the Coronavirus Odds - So Far. What Can Other Places Learn?

March 31, 2020

Artificial Intelligence in Health Care: Will the Value Match the Hype

May 20, 2019

Wired logo

Technology Will Only Transform Medicine If We Get Privacy Right

April 23, 2019

strategy+business logo

A Doctor’s Prescription: Data May Finally Be Good for Your Health

October 8, 2018

Wall Street Journal logo

How Tech Has Undermined—and May Now Save—the Doctor-Patient Relationship

April 29, 2018

Telemedicine Success Hinges on ‘Reimagining’ Healthcare

April 29, 2018

The Problem With Miracle Cancer Cures

April 19, 2018

Why Home Hospitals Are Not a Threat

April 18, 2018

3 Ways Health Care Can Unlock the Innovative Potential of EHRs

April 10, 2018

To Combat Physician Burnout and Improve Care, Fix the Electronic Health Record

March 30, 2018

UCSF's Robert Wachter Says Health IT Still Hasn't Realized Its Full Potential, But Promise is There

March 7, 2018

Healthcare IT News logo

'Digital Doctor' Robert Wachter Changes His Tune, Sees Real Progress in Digital Health

March 5, 2018

If Digital Health is the Future, the Future is Not Here. Yet.

January 29, 2018

Why Medicine's Digital Transformation is Just Beginning

January 24, 2018

How Doctors are Providing Smarter Care with Electronic Health Records

January 08, 2018

The HITECH Era – A Patient-Centered Perspective

October 10, 2017

EHRs Still Frustrate, But Their Potential Is Unfolding

May 11, 2017

Healthcare IT News logo

Doctors Demand Extreme EHR Makeover... Right Now

April 10, 2017

Modern Medicine Network logo

Why Have EHRs Failed to Deliver Their Promised Efficiency Benefits?

January 16, 2017

Healthcare Informatics logo

Healthcare's Digital Transformation: "We Haven't Seen Anything Yet"

December 6, 2016

Hospitals & Health Network logo

Radiology Field Poised for Even More Change

November 28, 2016

The Productivity Paradox

July 21, 2016

diane rehm show logo

Improving Doctor-Patient Communication In A Digital World

February 9, 2016

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

January 16, 2016

The Best Health IT Book of 2015

September 1, 2015

Software Has Changed the World, But Here’s Why it Hasn’t Improved Healthcare

August 24, 2015

The Trouble With Health IT

July 16, 2015

Review: ‘The Digital Doctor’ by Robert Wachter Weighs Medicine’s Technological Transformation

May 25, 2015

Podcast: Diagnosing Digital Difficulties in Medicine

May 21, 2015

Digital Disruption Meets Healthcare: A Review Of 'The Digital Doctor'

May 13, 2015

Keep Calm and Interoperate On

May 3, 2015

Is Technology Making Our Doctors Better or Worse?

April 21, 2015

Podcast: The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age

April 15, 2015

Health IT: 'We Were Bound To Be Disappointed'

April 10, 2015

Wachter Not Afraid to Challenge Status Quo

April 4, 2015

The Contraindications of High Tech Medicine

March 30, 2015

Healthcare IT News logo

Q&A: Robert Wachter on Health IT's 'Hope, Hype and Harm'

March 25, 2015

Biography

When the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in San Francisco in mid-March 2020, Dr. Robert Wachter – a practicing physician and Chair of the Department of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) – jumped into action with colleagues and local leaders to help stem its spread. Hoping to avoid what cities like New York were then experiencing, Wachter shared daily tweets to keep the public and media informed. As a result, his team’s early, well-coordinated response paid off and, due to conflicting reports elsewhere, Wachter quickly became a trusted source for COVID news by more than 150,000 followers around the world.

It is not unusual for Dr. Wachter to be called upon to take the lead when the health and safety of patients, communities, providers and institutions are at stake. A globally recognized health care leader and futurist, Wachter has spent decades advocating for, developing and activating protocols that improve health care safety, quality and policies. His particular focus on the safe use of digital technologies in the delivery of care led to the publishing of his 2015 book, “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age.” The paradigm-shifting book offers an unvarnished view of the early days of health care’s digital transformation and a provocative exploration into what it will take to successfully shift from “disruption” to “disruptive innovation.”

“We need to recognize that computers in health care don’t simply replace my doctor’s scrawl with Helvetica 12,” Wachter noted. “Instead, they transform the work, the people who do it, and their relationships with each other and with patients…Sure, we should have thought of this sooner. But it’s not too late to get it right.”

Wachter wrote the book after seeing some early dangers and downsides related to the use of digital technologies, such as doctors looking at devices rather than into a patient’s eyes and patients receiving incorrect drug dosages. His pioneering work on behalf of patient safety can be credited with bringing together the best parts of caregiving and technology to improve quality standards and save lives.

A dynamic speaker and New York Times bestselling author, Wachter is renowned for his iconoclastic and often humorous insights into the changing world of health care. In 1996, he coined the term “hospitalist,” which refers to what became the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine.

Lessons from the Past, Hope for the Future

In all the tragedy of COVID-19, Dr. Wachter found a silver lining as hospitals and health care systems took advantage of digital tools in new ways through the implementation of telemedicine, new data sources and clinical dashboards. His latest talk on COVID-induced changes that will endure after the pandemic describes how the crisis led to certain practice changes that will profoundly influence the future of health care. As importantly, he describes other areas of need – including AI, interoperability, and robust programs to address disparities – in which he is skeptical about transformative change.

Wachter continues to educate the public and the profession on lessons from the crisis through academic and lay-oriented articles, conferences, social media, and frequent media appearances on national news shows including The Rachel Maddow Show, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. He also fills in as guest host of the popular Apple podcast “In the Bubble” which has about 1 million downloads a month.

While it is difficult to predict the next stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of health care, Wachter remains a foremost advocate of the Gretzky theory: skate to where the puck is going. In the setting of a pandemic, this vision is particularly crucial.

“COVID has been horrible and challenging, yet we are learning a lot,” says Wachter. “Every dimension of this crisis has offered valuable insights into health care, science, public policy, media, human behavior and culture — insights that will allow us to do better in the future.”

# # #

Dr. Wachter is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, past president of the Society of Hospital Medicine (1999-2000) and past chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine (2012-2013). In 2004, he received the John M. Eisenberg Award, the nation’s top honor in patient safety. He is on the boards of the Lucian Leape Institute and The Doctors Company. He has also served on the health care advisory boards of several companies, including Google and Teladoc.

He is the author of over 250 articles and six books, including two bestsellers on the subject of safety and quality: “Understanding Patient Safety” (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2018 – third edition), the field’s leading primer, and “Internal Bleeding” (Rugged Land, 2005).

Modern Healthcare magazine has named him one of the 50 most influential physician executives in the U.S. 13 times, ranking him #1 in 2015. In 2020, his frequent tweets on COVID-19 were viewed more than 60 million times by over 150,000 followers and served as a trusted source of information on the clinical, public health and policy issues surrounding the pandemic.

Robert Wachter is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

COVID-19’s Impact on Health Care and How to be Better Prepared Going Forward

COVID-19 presented health care professionals across the world with massive new demands and challenges as they attempted to save the lives of patients who were suddenly and unexpectedly infected by an unknown enemy. Since the crisis took hold in the U.S., Dr. Robert Wachter has been leading efforts to educate the public and the profession – through academic and lay-oriented articles, conferences, social media, and frequent media appearances on national news shows, including The Rachel Maddow Show, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. He has also been a leading thinker on how COVID is transforming the health care system. In this session, Dr. Wachter describes the changes induced by COVID and points to ones that are likely to be durable and transformative. In the process, he provides practical insights so health care organizations can position themselves for success in this new environment and be prepared for other crises in the future.

Amazon, A.I., and Value-based Payment: Is Healthcare Finally Ripe for Transformation?

With its nearly $4 trillion in yearly expenditures, healthcare now accounts for 18% of the US Gross Domestic Product, as well as a growing fraction of the costs in other nations. On top of these backbreaking costs, quality problems are rampant, medical errors remain distressingly common, and the consumer experience is anything but frictionless. In other industries – ranging from retail to financial services to entertainment – digitization opened the door to new and disruptive models. In healthcare, however, digitization has often led to more unhappiness, with rates of physician burnout skyrocketing and the patient experience even more fragmented.

In this talk, Dr. Robert Wachter, describes the new and powerful forces that are reshaping and disrupting the healthcare industry – in the U.S. and worldwide. Dr. Wachter will make the case that it’s not one thing – not just Amazon and Google’s entry into the market, not just AI, not just new payment models, not just consolidation. Rather, it’s the combination of all of these forces that are driving healthcare – notoriously resistant to change – to its own Netflix moment. Dr. Wachter, who chaired a commission advising NHS England on its digital future, has a unique ability to connect with audiences – ranging from practicing clinicians to healthcare leaders and policymakers – and weave together the threads of this complex and crucial story.

The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age

Everyone had high hopes computers would be the magic bullet to improve the safety, quality and efficiency of healthcare. In the past five years – catalyzed by a $30 billion federal incentive program – medicine has finally, reluctantly, gone digital. Drawing from personal experiences and real-life case examples, Dr. Wachter explores some of the unforeseen consequences of information technology – including the movement to hire scribes so doctors and patients can look each other in the eye again, alert fatigue, and the tendency for clinicians to defer to a new kind of authority (an electronic one) – and discusses proposed solutions. He also touches on core issues in medicine, such as what it means to be a doctor – and patient – in the digital age, the theme of his e-book of the same title (April 2015).

The Quality, Safety and Value Movements: Why Transforming the Delivery of Healthcare Is No Longer Elective

If there’s one thing most people inside and outside of healthcare can agree on, it’s that the American healthcare system is broken and must be fixed. Dr. Wachter reviews the brief history of the quality and safety movements, the new push for “value” (quality + safety + patient satisfaction divided by cost), and how all of these levers (accreditation, regulation, transparency, payment changes) are combining to create unprecedented pressure on caregivers and delivery organizations to change their ways of doing business. But for all of the pain, there is also hope: attendees will gain a deep understanding of healthcare’s evolving landscape and a roadmap (and some optimism) for success in this new world.

Media

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Books & Research

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Recommendations

“I admit, I’m a Bob Wachter FAN!  I’m thinking of starting the Bob Wachter fan club.”

– Jona Raasch, President, The Governance Institute

“Bob – thank you once more for the excellent presentation/discussion this past weekend. Your topic and information fit in perfectly with the theme of the meeting and overall created an important message to our constituency. We worked you hard during the day and I really appreciate your willingness to interact in the various ways. The attendees thoroughly enjoyed having you around and being able to have proximity to your thought leadership.”

– Peter Angood, American Association for Physician Leadership

Advance Praise for “The Digital Doctor”

“Wachter’s intimate narrative left me entertained, amazed, alarmed at times, but always engrossed as I came to a new understanding of my own profession as it is reshaped by technology. Simply brilliant.”

–  Abraham Verghese, Professor, Stanford University, and Author of “Cutting for Stone”

“One of the best books I’ve ever read. Wachter’s warm humor and deep insights kept me turning the pages without interruption.”

– Maureen Bisognano, President and CEO, Institute for Healthcare Improvement

“A much-needed study of the in-between moment where technology is making things worse because we just assumed that ‘adding it’ would make things better.”

– Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor and Author of “Alone Together”

“Only a person with the experience, depth, and judgment of Robert Wachter could take on the task of summarizing the impact of the digital age on the practice of medicine. But very few people who might have such experience, depth, and judgment would have pulled it off as well as he has…. It will be the talk of the town everywhere in the country, and beyond.”

– Paul Levy, former CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, blogging at “Not Running a Hospital”

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