NEW YORK, NY—”Information Architect” Richard Saul Wurman, whose books and TED symposia simplified the way people comprehend complex subjects, has turned his attention to demystifying one of the thorniest topics of our time: healthcare.
His new book, Understanding Healthcare, is a consumer guide on how to lead a healthy life by knowing more about how the body functions, and how to obtain the best care from healthcare professionals.
“We know more about our cars than our own bodies,” Mr. Wurman said. “Unfortunately we don’t have a procedure for regular maintenance the way we do for our vehicles.” Understanding Healthcare, he said, is the next best alternative to a “human dashboard” because it is a visual encyclopedia that provides detailed information on how to maintain and improve your health.
At 336 pages, Understanding Healthcare is a hands-on roadmap that allows individuals and their families to take an active role in their own health. The book is an all-in-one shelf of information guides, with hundreds of color-coded illustrations and an equal number of charts and graphs. It presents an overview on subjects ranging from how long people will live and what diseases they are likely to get, to what symptoms might suggest a heart attack and what a hospital intensive care unit looks like.
Understanding Healthcare also includes dramatic, first-person stories that profile individuals who have been diagnosed with a serious disease or a medical complication, such as high blood pressure or colon cancer. Other stories deal with critical issues such as needing a living will or opting for experimental treatments.
“These real-life cases show how patients who are faced with adversity can turn to one single reference source and find answers,” Mr. Wurman said.
The book is based on answering a series of questions posed by Mr. Wurman and is divided into three sections: “Understanding Yourself,” an owner’s manual for the human body; “Understanding Them,” facts about medical professionals involved in the delivery of healthcare; and “Making it Happen,” which delves into understanding medical access, costs and coverage.
“Understanding Healthcare is an essential guide for consumers seeking to play an active role in their medical care,” said William C. Weldon, chairman and chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson, which provided major funding for the book. “It empowers each of us to constructively and successfully navigate through our own patterns of health information – as well as for those we love,” he said.
Questions on Being Diagnosed
In the section called “Understanding Yourself,” Mr. Wurman explores how genetics, race, education and income levels can affect one’s health. He also provides information – in the form of straightforward, direct questions – on what to expect when diagnosed with an illness or disease, along with the tests that are usually performed, and what readers can expect from certain surgical procedures.
Understanding Them” focuses on healthcare professionals and their role in treating patients. For example, Mr. Wurman offers data on the best hospitals in the United States and outlines healthcare research currently underway by both the government and the private sector. He also provides answers to important, “big picture” questions, such as what should you know about choosing a doctor and what you can do to monitor your own health.
The final section of the book, “Making it Happen,” features Mr. Wurman’s tips on filing a malpractice claim, how Medicare and Medicaid work – and how to navigate them – and using technology to monitor one’s health. In addition, Understanding Healthcare lists a number of resources for the reader, including other helpful consumer publications as well as Internet sites. At the bottom third of nearly every page in Understanding Healthcare are “Action Items,” next steps readers can take to address or cope with a particular medical problem.
“As the world’s largest diversified healthcare company, we see consumers around the world wrestling with these kinds of issues and big decisions daily,” Mr. Weldon said. “Understanding Healthcare is a valuable and informative resource and should be a medical staple in every American home.”
Third ‘Understanding’ Guide
The new book marks Mr. Wurman’s third in his series that tackle major topics of significant interest to the consumer. His previous “understanding” guides were Understanding USA and Understanding Children. Understanding Healthcare is Mr. Wurman’s 81st published work. His books have sold over six million copies.
“The problem of gathering, organizing and presenting information is just like the problems an architect faces in designing a building,” Mr. Wurman said. “All of my books stem from my desire to know rather than already knowing, from my ignorance rather than my intelligence, and from my inability rather than my ability.”
Mr. Wurman is best known as the creator of the TED (technology, entertainment and design) symposia. He now produces TED/MED conferences, which focus on communicating in the world of healthcare, and how the medical community can make information more understandable to consumers. The next TED/MED conference will address Understanding Healthcare on Oct. 12-15, 2004, at Charleston Place, Charleston, S.C.
Underwriting from Johnson & Johnson
Major funding for Understanding Healthcare was provided by Johnson & Johnson. Through its support of the book, the company is helping to raise awareness of the essential information about accessing medical care today.
Other support for Understanding Healthcare came from the Markle Foundation, an organization committed to improving people’s lives by using information and communications technologies to address critical public needs; and the UnitedHealth Group, a leader in advancing, promoting and facilitating health through public access to trustworthy information.
Advisors to the content of Understanding Healthcare included more than 60 prominent physicians, scientists and healthcare professionals, who reviewed all sections of the book under the guidance of the Foundation for Accountability (FACCT), a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve healthcare for Americans.
“Understanding information is power,” Mr. Wurman said. “With so much medical information available, the challenge is to break it down and present it so it is useful – and useable – rather than overwhelming. That’s what Understanding Healthcare is all about.”