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Author Robin Cook: When Your Smartphone Becomes Your Doctor

Author Robin Cook in 2008 (Patryk Korzeniecki via Wikimedia Commons)

Author Robin Cook in 2008 (Patryk Korzeniecki via Wikimedia Commons)

Some doctors might tell you that their electronic medical record systems have already plunged them into a horror story along the lines of a “Coma”-like Robin Cook thriller. Dr. Cook himself sounds the alarm about the possible dangers of high-tech health tools in his latest bestseller, “Cell.” (As in cell phone. As in an app that functions as your dream doctor. Except when things go wrong in that sinister Robin-Cook-ish way.)

But there’s not a trace of the Luddite about him; he co-wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently that began:

A sweeping transformation of medicine has begun that will rival in importance the introduction of anesthesia or the discovery of the germ basis of infectious disease. It will change how patients and physicians interact. It will change medical research and therapy. “Sick care”—the current model of waiting for you to get sick and then trying to alleviate symptoms and make you well—will become true “health care,” where prevention is the mantra and driving force. Welcome to the world of digital medicine.

We chatted at a lunch last week for the Friends of the Newton Free Library, where Dr. Cook taught a rapt audience the rudiments of thriller-writing. Our conversation, lightly edited:

In your latest book, “Cell,” a virtual-doctor app goes horribly wrong. But in your recent op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, you sound very bullish about digital medicine. So are you feeling some ambivalence here about digital medicine?

The point is that it’s coming and nobody’s going to stop it. And none of the stakeholders are all that excited.

I was thinking that you’ve written a kind of an electronic health record nightmare — but then, some doctors say they’re already living that in real life. Continue reading