My Last Column Focused On Digital Health


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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