Building on the phenomenal popularity of the iPad, David Rothman recently proposed in a guest article in TheAtlantic what he calls a National Information Stimulus Plan (Here’s the whole long article & Rothman’s shorter summary) — Using tax breaks to encourage citizens to buy iPads to build up peoples’ skills at using information tools. Of course, the iPad part of Rothman’s idea has gotten most of the attention. But he also focuses a lot on libraries and healthcare, two of the themes of this blog. So I’m excerpting some of his comments on those subjects below.
With the iPad being so popular for reading books, Rothman broadens his appeal for the stimulus plan to the idea of a national digital library:
Might iPad-style technology in fact be a godsend for millions of schoolchildren with obsolete textbooks? And could e-books benefit the elderly, the disabled, and other library users, too, including U.S. workers eager to upgrade job skills? If nothing else, the iPad and similar machines could drive down library costs per book. That could help keep reading alive in places like Hood River County, Oregon, where the 98-year-old library system plans to close for financial reasons –just one of many cash-strapped U.S. libraries.
Along the way, as the technology’s price declined, the mass automation potential of the tablets could justify the cost of a national digital library system. Such potential might count even more than the library initiative itself. Call it a national information stimulus plan or NISP. The stimulus would be in the form of more and better information, as well as greater efficiencies in both the public and private sectors.
Neighborhood libraries serve as community gathering places and for many other reasons are preferable to digital collections alone. But a national digital library system able to serve library-bereft neighborhoods–and places like Hood River County–would be better than no library service at all. Local librarians could still help choose books to be offered.
Taking off from his own recent experience as a patient, he argues that the information stimulus plan could benefit the nation’s healthcare system:
But how to cost-justify a well-stocked national digital library system? Multibillion-dollar savings and other benefits could result from iPad-style technology in a number of ways, beyond the library world, if the United States had a better information strategy. Simpler e-commerce and tax forms–at local, state and national levels–are just a start. Healthcare is the real paper dragon to slay, and the Americans might even live longer if we acted. The National Institutes of Health and other leading institutions could more effectively distribute medical information to doctors and patients alike, and the sick could use the same machines to monitor treatments and juggle around pills, not just track the financial details.
Let’s look, close up, at the paper dragon. When a Northern Virginia man suffered a heart attack in September 2008, this AARP member felt as if the healthcare industry had bullied him into becoming an accountant–caught as he was between the hospital, the doctors and the insurance company. … I know first-hand of the horrors here. You see, I’m the cardiac patient from Northern Virginia, and remember mine is a best-case scenario or at least somewhat close to it. The hospital itself was theoretically within the insurance company’s network for almost full coverage. But oh, the loopholes!
So why not use iPad-type machines and easy-to-use software closely tied in with the devices? Then, for example, I could instantly show why an insurance company rejected problematic items that the doctors’ offices or hospitals were now trying to get me to pay for.
Forget about just paper-based information or facts from separate corporate Web sites with password hassles and other joys. Give me instead a simple iPad-style application or a centralized Web-based “dashboard” or maybe a choice, so I can more easily try to reconcile information from different sources … Case by case, let patients themselves play more of a role in policing our health system … The same dashboard could also help me retrieve drug information–I gulp down five pills a day, a small number compared to some patients’–and alert me to relevant medical news. …
And he extends the “iPad Stimulus” beyond healthcare:
Healthcare is just one example of how a coherent and comprehensive strategy for iPad-style machines and others could empower individual Americans in new ways and improve life in areas besides literacy, education, and training. Furthermore, the right information policy could help build a constituency for the library initiative far beyond teachers, librarians, and book-lovers.
Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey