Medicine for the soul” – Inscription over the doorway at the Library at Thebes.
In his latest novel, Robin Cook takes on the issue of digitalized medical practice. The title refers to 21st century humanity’s ubiquitous accessory: the cellular phone. If you are interested in healthcare issues, this is worth your time. Cook takes the Affordable Healthcare Act, death panels, primary care physician shortages, reimbursement schedules, health insurance companies, electronic medical records, etc.
Amalgamated Healthcare, insurance giant aiming to become a behemoth, has produced a software application for smartphones called iDoc. It is capable of monitoring patients 24/7 and treating them as would a primary care provider. In the USA, this seems like a godsend, an answer to astronomical health care costs coupled with a critical shortage of primary care physicians. It is an understatement to say that it is a revolution in health care.
The protagonist, Dr. George Wilson, third year radiology resident at LA University Medical Center, becomes aware of iDoc when he is invited by a former medical school classmate/girlfriend to attend an Amalgamated presentation. The company announces the preliminary results of the beta test it started a few months earlier and declares it a huge success. Afterwards George’s former classmate gives him a tour of the iDoc facility.
During this first part of the book, there are fascinating descriptions of the iDoc software. For example, artificial intelligence, security in the virtual universe, as well as the actual board-certified physicians who perform and monitor the interactions with the patients.
It is at this presentation that George realizes his dead fiancee was part of this beta study. Then George’s neighbor and some of his patients, all beta test participants, start to die. Has iDoc run amok and is now killing patients? The doctor wants to know.
Truthfully, Cook does a very good job of presenting multiple perspectives on healthcare issues through the characters. But I find it hard to believe that this is the same man who wrote the take-the-reader’s-breath-away “Coma” almost 40 years ago. There is just not much of a story here and there is no pay-off at the end because there is no conclusion, just an ending. There were no thrills here. The characters are shallow and unremarkable. I kept reading, wondering when he was going to tighten up the story – it never happened. It did leave me thinking about these very timely and important issues, but most of us think about them anyway.
There is an author’s note at the end of the book wherein Dr. Cook plugs “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” by Eric Topol, MD. Cook stated he read this book when he was about halfway finished with Cell and indicated: “Reading the book enabled me to add some richness to Cell that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.” Both books are available at Collier County Public Library. If interested, check out more about Cell at robincook.com or https:www.facebook.com/DrRobinCook.
OF NOTE: Robin Cook will be at Sunshine Books on March 27, 2014, at 3 PM for a book signing.