By DAVID SHAYWITZ, MD
Since 2011, I’ve written extensively about digital health in this column, motivated by my excitement for the subject and my conviction around its potential. Going forward, I anticipate writing far less about digital health – paradoxically, due to its very growth. I simply lack the bandwidth to continue to follow digital health developments while remaining gainfully employed in a role unrelated to this space.
I remain profoundly optimistic about the future of digital health, and I am convinced it can play a transformative role in shaping the future of healthcare. I suspect we will come to discover that technology’s most important role in healthcare lies not in replacing humans with computers, but rather through motivating, enhancing, and supporting vital, health-promoting relationships between people.
Meanwhile, here are several recently-published books that readers interested in digital health may want to check out:
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think
Authors: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Oxford Professor) and Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor of The Economist.
One-liner: Big data: how the world changes when you start to think about N=all.
Why read? Approachable and engaging overview of important, often-intimidating subject.
Caveat: Discussions of health implications tend to conflate promise with demonstrated results – though a small quibble in context of a wonderful read.
Social Physics: How Ideas Spread—The Lessons From A New Science
Author: Sandy Pentland (MIT Professor) (disclosure: Pentland is an advisor to the MGH/MIT Center for Assessment Technology and Continuous Health [CATCH], of which I am a co-founder.)
One-liner: The underappreciated power and influence of social interactions.
Why read: Learn why social media can share information (or misinformation), but changing habits is most effectively mediated by close, in-person relationships.
Caveat: Assessment of health implications may overstate benefits (at least in the short term – may actually understate transformative potential of this area of study in the longer term, a la Roy Amara).
Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff Off Trial-And-Error For Business, Politics, and Society
Author: Jim Manzi (consultant and software entrepreneur – see also here).
One-liner: Optimization gets harder as systems get progressively more complex; rigorous empiricism can help – somewhat.
Why read: Fascinating, deeply informative discussion of the origins of the scientific method, and the challenges encountered when trying to apply it to different business and social challenges; in many contexts, profound, reproducible impact is difficult to achieve, and perhaps unreasonable to expect.
Caveat: Can be heavy sledding – especially towards the beginning (though absolutely worth it).
Surviving Workplace Wellness…With Your Dignity (and Major Organs) Intact
Author: Al Lewis (noted benefits consultant, see here) and Vik Khanna (health consultant)
One-liner: Most employer wellness programs overpromise, underdeliver, rely on coercion, and are built on a foundation of deliberate half-truths and misrepresentations.
Why read: Especially valuable in context of setting expectations for what is reasonable to anticipate from wellness programs, and from prevention efforts, more generally.
Caveat: Authors’ deliberately abrasive and snarky style tends to grate quickly; in some instances, dismissive oversimplifications may overlook important subtleties – yet even so, an essential read.
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