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Book Forum: Health Care and Patient Information   |    
Cybermedicine: How Computing Empowers Doctors and Patients for Better Health Care, revised ed.
ROBERT BAILEY, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:1259-a-1260. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.7.1259-a
View Author and Article Information
Albuquerque, N.Mex.

By Warner V. Slack, M.D. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2001, 250 pp., $19.95 (paper).

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As I write, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ranks 4,079 in sales at Amazon.com. That surprisingly high ranking most likely reflects our sustained appreciation for good writing, but it may also hint that even today we remain apprehensive about technology’s offspring.

Dr. Slack’s revised edition of Cybermedicine is an enjoyable, informative, and thought-provoking antidote to such apprehension. Dr. Slack acknowledges that computers have the potential to both help and harm, but he persuasively argues that the well-informed, thoughtfully crafted application of computing to modern medicine can appreciably enhance the well-being of both patients and physicians. Psychiatrists will be particularly interested in chapter 4, "Cybermedicine in Psychology and Psychiatry," but the entire book is readily applicable to psychiatry.

As the former editor-in-chief of MD Computing and cofounder of Harvard’s Center for Clinical Computing (initially self-proclaimed and only later officially sanctioned by brass plaque, as the book entertainingly relates), Dr. Slack has had a long and productive involvement in the creative application of computing to health care. Most strikingly, he has done so with the goal of serving and empowering patients and physicians, in active opposition to the attitude that computers should be used to keep patients and physicians carefully monitored and well regimented. As he puts it, "The ultimate goal of hospital computing is to improve patient care."

Physicians seeking detailed, specific (and soon outdated) information on technical matters should look elsewhere. This is not the book to read for information on what applications to download for your personal data assistant or which office management suite to buy. More importantly, this book conveys a clinically centered attitude toward medical computing and teaches hard-won and empirically validated guidelines for the development of user-friendly, productive computer applications in health care. Dr. Slack’s clearly stated principles for medical computing (pp. 29–31 and 96–97) should be photocopied and thumbtacked on medical informatics office walls across the country.

In summary, this is very much the book to read for guidance on how to create and implement successful, clinically grounded medical computing applications that benefit both patient and physician. Through a well-written and engaging mix of personal reminiscence and rewarding reflection, Dr. Slack tells how medical computing can be servant rather than master (or monster).

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