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How Geeky Are You?

Technophiles are everywhere these days. My favorites are the cell phone users seemingly talking to the invisible man. Then there are people with ear buds blasting away while they furiously thumb-punch cryptic text messages into a PDA. Of course, technology’s popularity is no surprise. Gadgets and convenience rule. Thanks to the Internet, I can work in Chicago and stay connected with my editor in Nashville.

Still, modern technology reminds me of Henry Thoreau’s mid-1800s observation about the transatlantic cable: We’ll immediately know about the British royalty’s illnesses, he said. Thoreau’s skepticism about the intrusive side of information technology still applies. Sure, cell phones enable endless amounts of information sharing—IT’s purpose. Unfortunately, sharing easily becomes broadcasting. Now, a routine trip to the grocery store often entails being foisted into other people’s personal lives.

We live in a world of dubious technology priorities. One telecom exec gushed in a recent interview about downloading movies to cell phones. In this context, such tasks as sending patient lab values from one physician’s clinic to another hospital’s ED seem downright quaint. In a world dominated by fantasy and celebrity, who cares what doctors, nurses, and healthcare executives need? In popular culture (and the media), healthcare IT is largely irrelevant.

Take Newsweek magazine’s recent technology quiz. Although the quiz was tongue-in-cheek, the questions were revealing. I’m not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed that I almost flunked. Tuned to popular technology, the quiz asked such things as whether I prefer PacMan or Grand Theft Auto (neither), and how often I text message from a cell phone (rarely). Luckily, I knew Pong’s inventor (Nolan Busnell). My score, a mere one point above “stuck in last century,” left me “heading to Geekdom.” But far away from “seriously nerdy.”

Now, if Newsweek had included EMRs or PACS, my pedigree might have soared. Fortunately, you, our readers, both understand and value these technologies. IT can do so much more than serve up the celebrity gossip Thoreau anticipated. Appreciating that potential, healthcare’s leaders have enormous dedication to improving outcomes through IT. It’s a good thing too. Recent reports highlight how thumb typing can cause carpal tunnel and iPods can damage hearing. The seriously nerdy, no doubt, will be in your clinic soon.

—Gary Baldwin