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Editor’s Notes: In the Quest for the New Healthcare, Don’t Forget the One Ring of Power

March 25, 2016
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It was fascinating to go back to J.R.R. "Tolkien’Lord of the Rings" trilogy recently, and to think about the heroism of its pint-sized protagonists

Recently at my local branch public library, I was inspired to walk down the fiction aisle, and to peruse The Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I had read the entire trilogy twice already—the first time as a high school student, and the second time in 2001, when Peter Jackson’s films of the three books—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—were released, one year after another.

It is fascinating to go back to the LOTR now, many years later. Reading the trilogy as an adolescent, I was entranced with the story, first published by Tolkien in 1954, with its mesmerizing fantasy of heroism in a fully created world, of hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, and other creatures. In fact, the trilogy was a single, 1,200-plus-page novel, but Tolkien, a professor of medieval literature in England, was told by his publisher that a single novel of more than 1,200 pages, with a fantasy/mythological theme, would never be successful; thus, the book was broken into three. Still, Tolkien had the last laugh on this: more than 60 years after its publication, it remains, according to Wikipedia, the best-selling novel ever written, with over 150 million copies sold, and doubtless, a several-fold readership via library-borrowed and personally shared reading.

Besides the amazing poetry and poetic prose in the LOTR, what strikes me now in rereading it, is the sense of mission that Tolkien invests in its heroes, led by a pack of hobbits—smaller-sized, human-like creatures. The hobbits risk everything, venturing into the heart of the dread land of Mordor, in order to destroy the One Ring of Power. The story that Tolkien tells is an original one, but the telling of it draws on many Celtic, Germanic, and Nordic mythological and legendary sources; thus, the similarities to Richard Wagner’s epic ”The Ring of the Nibelung” operatic tetralogy (a four-opera work), one of the towering monuments in Western art—as Tolkien drew on some of the same myths as Wagner.

But back to the sense of mission. Frodo and his fellow hobbits endure countless trials in their journey, constantly courting danger, and staring into the very face of evil. In this, Tolkien’s imagination of the clash of good and evil was undoubtedly inspired by his combat service in World War I, including at the Battle of the Somme. In any case, he invested in his little hobbits a sense of mission, vision, and heroism that belied their diminutive size. They were committed to finding a solution to a problem that was crucial to their world.

Obviously, nothing in the real, day-to-day world of humans in contemporary society will sound quite as heroic as when compared to how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is framed. But it is deeply heartening to see how very many leaders are committed to transforming U.S. healthcare from what had historically been a relatively unresponsive, volume-based, provider-centric system, into one that is becoming highly transparent and accountable, value-based, and patient-, consumer-, and community-centric one. Indeed, for many healthcare leaders these days, the drive to transform healthcare has become a mission, a vision, a quest.

In that regard, we editors at HCI have once again been delighted to provide you, our readers, with our annual Healthcare Informatics Top Ten Tech Trends March/April issue, as we’ve presented them here on our website all this week. All ten speak to important trends that are emerging, shifting, changing—in some way affecting healthcare at this incredibly important time in the evolution of healthcare in the U.S. What’s heartening is the immense sense of mission that so many healthcare leaders are investing in the transformation of our healthcare system. And that brings with it a real ring of power.