Bio & Life Sciences Healthcare Society

The Three Best Digital Health Books of 2015

Here are three great books on the future of healthcare published in 2015. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

Here are three great books on the future of healthcare published in 2015. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

As new technologies continue to drive rapid change in the practice and business of healthcare, keeping up with the latest developments can be difficult. Fortunately, several great books on this topic were published in 2015. As a digital health entrepreneur, I found the following three particularly valuable.

The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol

Connected devices are proliferating around the world, and people everywhere have greater access to healthcare information and services than ever. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and geneticist who directs the Scripps Translational Research Institute, believes soaring connectivity will bring about a new era of patient empowerment. In The Patient Will See You Now, he predicts the end of “medical paternalism,” his term for the current paradigm in which healthcare professionals act as the primary gatekeepers of knowledge and care.

Topol spends much of the book describing the new technologies and services that will drive this change. He regards widespread use of these tools as inevitable, but points to ongoing resistance in many domains. For instance, patients still face obstacles to accessing personal genomic data, an issue that Techonomy contributor Meredith Salisbury has covered extensively in these pages over the past year.

Some regard Topol as deluded about digital health and excessively dismissive of the regulators and physicians who are trying to protect patient safety in our connected age. But whether or not you share his worldview, his book presents a broad and engaging overview of the many digital health trends unfolding today.

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

New IT systems hold enormous potential to improve healthcare, but many clinicians still struggle to use them. The Digital Doctor by Robert Wachter, a prominent academic physician on the faculty of UCSF, shows how these systems promise better safeguards and efficiencies in clinical care, but often have drawbacks and unintended consequences.

Wachter draws on rich personal experience to demonstrate why so many clinicians loathe the IT systems that are supposed to make their work easier and more effective. A common complaint is that they saddle clinicians with administrative burdens that interfere with patient care. They also threaten to alter traditional patterns of professional collaboration. Radiologists, for instance, used to have regular visits with colleagues in other departments, but are increasingly isolated in digital darkrooms, resulting in reduced job satisfaction and missed opportunities for knowledge sharing.

Wachter also looks at the economic and regulatory factors that spurred health IT in recent years, implying that skewed incentives led to rapid adoption of inferior products. He anticipates that there will be more growing pains as the industry matures and clinicians adjust to new systems, but remains optimistic about the ultimate potential of IT to improve patient care.

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith

Although not about digital health in a conventional sense, journalist Jeremy N. Smith’s latest book tells the story of Chris Murray, a physician who spearheaded the world’s most comprehensive effort to collect and analyze global health data. Murray still leads this effort as director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a research institute at the University of Washington. His work leverages emerging capabilities in data collection and analytics, and makes global health policymaking more efficient.

In July 2015, I interviewed Murray for an article on big data and global health, where I argued that data gaps present an ongoing challenge to identifying and addressing the world’s healthcare problems. He shared some exciting examples of how IHME was addressing these gaps. Through powerful software and clever methods of estimating health risk factors, such as using satellite imagery to measure air pollution in countries that don’t report it, his organization produces comprehensive global data on disease incidence and burden.

Achieving this feat was no cakewalk. Smith’s book traces the many challenges that Murray and his colleagues faced along the way, from broken commitments by prospective funders to institutional politics at the global health organizations they were trying to serve. Yet after years of hard work and persistence, IHME now plays a deeply influential role in global health policymaking. Its data and research guides billions of dollars of healthcare spending each year.

What other great books on digital health came out last year? Feel free to comment or tweet me your thoughts.

Will Greene is a writer and strategy consultant focused on Asia’s emerging R&D ecosystems. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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