Alvin Toffler passed away last week, June 27 2016. He was author of Future Shock, The Third Wave, and Powershift. I read his books while I was doing my rotations in med school, and Toffler’s vision helped motivate my move into Health IT.

His futurist books deal with the move into the information age. The Third Wave (1980) describes the information age, after the first (agriculture) and second (industrial) waves. Similarly, Powershift (1990) describes the move from muscle power (first wave), capital power (second), to knowledge as source of power in the third wave, the information age.

What did he say about healthcare?

1980, in The Third Wave – on what we now call patient and family engagement in their care: “Health in Second Wave societies came to be seen as a product provided by a doctor and a health-delivery bureaucracy, rather than the result of intelligent self-care (production for use) by the patient.” Then, describing the shift to the Third Wave and the use of in-home health devices: “[in the Third Wave] individuals take on more responsibility for their own health, reduce the number of visits to the doctor, and cut short their hospital stays.”

1990, Powershift – on decision making and data overload. This section particularly inspired me, defining the need for Clinical Decision Support systems: “The monitoring of more variables, plus the enormous jump in data processing capacity made possible by computers, changes the problem facing […] decision makers from information underload to information overload. […] Data (of varying quality) are plentiful. Understanding is rare. […] The sheer volume threatens to overwhelm even armies of analysts, leading to pressures to automate the interpretation function. This in turn encourages a reliance on artificial intelligence and other “knowledge engineering” tools.”

One more amazing foresight, again from Powershift, in a chapter called “The “Screenie” Generation” – read this with in mind the top priorities in health IT today: “These half-dozen keys to the future are: interactivity, mobility, convertability, connectivity, ubiquity and globalization.” He defines convertability as “the ability to transfer information from one medium to another”. and connectivity as “the ability to connect devices to a dazzling diversity of other devices, regardless of which manufacturer made them”. Toffler would not expect that more than 25 years later we are debating interoperability (which has elements of convertability and connectivity in it) in the health IT space.

He inspired me then, and he continues to inspire. Thank you Alvin Toffler for your work in pointing the direction.

Read about his life’s work, and what he got right and wrong, on BBC:

  • Avatar RANJIT J. SILVA says:

    Enjoyed the presentations at Population health Winter Institute. As for Alvin Toffler what a visionary. Totally agree with his projections. Good luck in your future endeavors.
    Ranjit J. Silva MD., CPE

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