Cynicism, Optimism, and Transformation
Words are powerful tools, weapons even. They can persuade skeptics, overcome bigotry, injure colleagues, disrupt the status quo, ruin reputations, shatter misconceptions, deceive the uninformed, endear us to loved ones, comfort the grief stricken. The list is almost endless. The three words that are most relevant to our discussion of mobile medicine—cynicism, optimism, and transformation—are no less potent.
Many stakeholders in healthcare have become cynical about the value of information technology in improving patient care, some of which is justified. Clinicians have valid concerns about the ability of the current crop of electronic health record systems to deliver cost effective care. Others doubt whether patient-facing mobile apps can effectively engage patients in their own care or lighten the load of practitioners already burdened with too many responsibilities. And many grouse about the seemingly endless list of IT-dependent government regulations that slow them down.
But for many, cynicism has become more than just a reaction to legitimate concerns. It’s become a national religion, coloring their view of emerging innovations and potentially transformative technologies. John and I are not members of that sect. While we are both optimists by nature, our enthusiasm for mobile technology is not naivete. Call it evidence-driven optimism. Our combined 60 plus years of work on the clinical and IT sides of medicine have convinced us of the value of clinician-facing and patient-facing mobile apps, telemedicine, remote sensors, and numerous other digital tools.
The comedian Stephen Colbert, in one of his more serious moments, once said: “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow.”
Like Colbert, our goal in this book is to reject the cynic’s view of healthcare. We are interested in growth. And as our subtitle suggests, that growth entails leveraging emerging innovations, seizing opportunities, and overcoming obstacles to mHealth.
In our previous book, Realizing the Promise of Precision Medicine, we demonstrated that mobile medical apps have both “potential and kinetic energy,” i.e., there’s evidence to show that several mHealth initiatives will improve patient care in the near future, and several initiatives have shown mobile medicine is improving patients’ lives now. The Transformative Power of Mobile Medicine will take this theme into deeper waters, exploring the latest developments in mobile health, including the value of blockchain, the emerging growth of remote sensors in chronic patient care, the potential use of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as patient bedside assistants, machine learning, the latest mobile apps being developed in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and elsewhere, and much more. These innovations and opportunities, however, also need to be put into the context of clinical medicine as it is practiced today, which will pose challenges in terms of validation and implementation. With these concerns in mind, we address criticisms and skepticism in the medical community and take a critical look at the published literature on mobile apps in diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, and other common disorders.
Equally important, we discuss the design process for creating new mobile medicine products, exploring successes and failures, the regulatory environment, and the importance of involving clinicians in the designed process at every stage.
mHealth initiatives are certainly no panacea, but they represent a new path for clinical medicine and for patient self-care that will have a profound impact for many decades. We hope our words will accomplish all the positive things words have the ability to accomplish, persuading skeptics, disrupting the status quo, shattering misconceptions, and demonstrating the power of evidence-driven optimism.
Paul Cerrato, MA
John Halamka, MD, MS