Bob Wachter has been about as influential an academic doctor as there’s been in recent years. He more or less invented the concept of the hospitalist, he’s been a leader in patient safety, and even dressed up and sang as Elton John at the conference he runs! (He’s also pissed off lots of doctors by being a recent one year chair of the newly controversial and perhaps scandalous ABIM). But for the last 2 years he’s been touring the good and the great of health care and IT to try to figure out what the recent introduction of EMRs at scale has meant and will mean. The resulting book The Digital Doctor is one of this year’s “must reads” and yes we will have Bob as the keynote at this Fall’s Health 2.0 Conference.
The immersion research he conducted was fantastic. Bob interviewed just about anyone you’ve ever heard of and a few you wish you hadn’t (more on that later). And in fact he’s been running interviews on THCB and elsewhere sharing some of the stuff that didn’t get in the book. But I’m still wrestling a little with what I think about the book itself. And I think it’s because I largely agree with him and his angst.
There is lots of wonderful stuff in this book. The change in the role of radiology post PACS, how patients are using open notes, whether Vinod Khosla agrees with Vinod Khosla about algorithms replacing doctors–all this and much more are here. But the book is largely about the introduction of the current generation of EMRs into the everyday practice of ordinary clinicians. There are by and large three camps of opinions about what’s happened.
One is that the EMR is a pox visited on physicians that costs a fortune, has worsened quality, heightened medical errors, blown up successful processes, and ruined the lives of doctors–unless they were given scribes. The second is that because of the “rush to judgement” caused by the HITECH Act and Meaningful Use, we put in EMRs that were based on 1990s client-server technology but they were the only ones mature enough for the job. Most of this camp thinks that they were way better than paper, will slowly improve, and that doctors and patients will find that these technologies will soon integrate with easy to use iPhone-like apps as their APIs open up–and that if we hadn’t mandated EMRs when the great recession gave us the chance, nothing would have happened. The third camp agrees that EMRs are better than paper but felt that the way HITECH was rolled out kept a bunch of dinosaurs in business, and is preventing the health IT equivalent of Salesforce displacing Siebel (or Slack displacing email).Continue reading…