Medicine, high-tech and low

Two new books on health care:

Bionic limbs will be wired directly into the brain; stem cells will patch ailing organs; engineered livers and kidneys will make transplants obsolete. Neural chip implants will be available for the healthy who want to be just a little sharper. (“And if you think doctors will act as ethical gatekeepers and balk at elective brain surgery,” Dr. Hanson writes, “I think you’re wrong.”)

In hospitals of the future “emancipated medical machines” will see problems and correct them expertly, with no need for human input. Doctors and nurses will supervise robots smart and dumb: the smart ones will perform surgery unerringly, while the dumb ones will do all the menial labor, cleaning floors, and lifting and turning patients, “freeing the warm hands of humans to better care for other humans in need.”

Those warm hands will be spending a lot of time tapping keyboards. Already, Webcams and wireless computer technology mean that a single critical-care doctor in a command center can make rounds on dozens of intensive-care patients in hospitals miles away. On the horizon is a worldwide network of health care “nodes,” with instant information on anyone anywhere and keyboard-driven care crisscrossing the globe.

Or, stick with the basics:

the toilet, which many experts credit with a greater impact on disease eradication in developed countries over the last two centuries than any other device or drug on record. In a narrative that spans the primitive privies of China and India and space-age toilet factories of Japan, the British journalist Rose George tells a story every bit as complicated and mind-blowingly high-tech as Dr. Hanson’s.

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