Snake Oil or Fear in #DigitalHealth


By now, we have all heard, discussed, and thought a lot about AMA CEO Madara’s speech on June 11, 2016 to the AMA Annual Meeting on #DigitalHealth challenges and opportunities facing medicine – “AMA CEO Madara Outlines Digital Challenges, Opportunities Facing Medicine” The response was, as we here at #hcldr and our #DigitalHealth communities expected, quite the backlash. And for good reason.

All movements, paradigm shifts, momentum changes and new directions within a population create stress – the stress of understanding, the stress of vision, the stress of great leadership. What we must keep in mind is that within everything new, we find the good and the bad. We shouldn’t have to say this since it [should be] is self-evident that we must filter the good from the bad.

The problem I see along with many of you is the overarching statement made by Dr. Madara:

From ineffective electronic health records, to an explosion of direct-to-consumer digital health products, to apps of mixed quality – it’s the digital snake oil of the early 21st century.

This unfairly and incorrectly paints an entire sector of #HealthCare as Snake Oil. Hardly.

Let’s take a look at some leading comments about this.

Respected social media voice, medical colleague, and leader Dr. Bryan Vartabedian (@Doctor_V) tackled this issue in his recent blog, “Digital Health and the AMA’s Snake Oil.” Do read it now if you haven’t! What stands out is his comment:

I might remind Dr. Madara that before referencing any part of digital innovation as snake oil he should recognize that there are countless MDs, patients, and health IT professionals working to move the world and shape our new digital culture in ways that he and the AMA can’t even begin to understand.

Further, Bryan references John Halamka M.D.’s (@jhalamka) awesome response to the AMA in “Why I Disagree with the Snake Oil Analogy”  Of note:

There is no snake oil.   We created the digital foundation that is a prerequisite for the next generation of tools which will focus on.

We can’t help but reference Topol’s (@EricTopol) The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care & The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands as required reading for any #DigitalHealth player.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t want to tell you what you should think or put #DigitalHealth in its own silo. I wish for all of you to discuss and share your insights now that a bit of time has passed since the speech. I know #hcldr will add value, ideas and action to this conversation – movement – shift – growth.

This week on #hcldr, let’s think & talk about how #DigitalHealth has been correctly or incorrectly labeled as Snake Oil and what that means for healthcare.

Let’s consider where we are and where we need to be as well as the implications along with the #hcldr community of professionals, patients, clinicians, administrators, lurkers, counselors, social workers, designers, and advocates! Please join us on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1: Is #DigitalHealth akin to modern snake oil? Do failures and missed objectives equate with a poor overall foundation?
  • T2: Why does the “Establishment” take such a doctrinaire & negative attitude towards #DigitalHealth?
  • T3: Is #DigitalHealth creating levels of care that serve to stratify healthcare or does it pull everything together? Examples?
  • T4: What upcoming shifts in #DigitalHealth do you see on the immediate horizon? Are you working on any initiatives?



“AMA CEO Madara Outlines Digital Challenges, Opportunities Facing Medicine”, James L. Madara, MD, AMA Annual Meeting, June 6, 2016.

Accessed July 4 , 2016


“Digital Health and the AMA’s Snake Oil”, Bryan Vartabedian, 33 Charts, June 18, 2016.

Accessed July 4, 2016


“Why I Disagree with the Snake Oil Analogy”, John Halamka M.D, Life As A Healthcare CIO, June 14, 2016.

Accessed July 4, 2016

Image Credit

One comment

  1. waynecaswell76 · · Reply

    Why is there so much industry fear of Digital Health? — My cynical view is that the profit incentives aren’t aligned with patient care incentives. The pharmacy is not interested in making it easy to transfer your meds to a competitor, and the hospital is not interested in sending patient records (and their customers) to a competitor. Likewise, hospital B would prefer to redo (and charge for) medical tests than to get test results from hospital A.

    The same thinking extends throughout our broken healthcare system, with its fee-for-service profit model that incentivizes doing more, testing more, and prescribing more. And it applies to medical schools who teach new docs to diagnose illness and treat symptoms more than to focus on health, wellness and prevention, since prevention eliminates the opportunity to deliver care.

    As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” That quote is important, because 429 of the original Fortune 500 companies are no longer in business today. That’s a scary thought for Dr. James Madara and those sitting at the top of the healthcare mountain, because they know they must adapt to disruptive health reform or die. And they’re looking down with fear at the hungry competitors who are already exploiting digital health technologies, because for them these are times of great opportunity.

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