Author devises a user-friendly owner's manual for the human body

Useful new book demystifies health-care puzzles and offers road map to wellness

Life After 50

Health & Fitness

March 21, 2004|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,The Hartford Courant

Richard Saul Wurman envisions the day when our bodies will have "dashboards" -- hand-held devices to monitor, access and store data on our vital functions -- much the way car dashboards keep us informed on fuel levels, temperature, speed and electrical systems as we drive.

To keep our personal "machines" in good working order in the meantime, the best-selling author and design expert has produced Understanding Healthcare (TOP, $25), a combination of an owner's manual for the human body and a roadmap to health, wellness and diseases, as well as medical services, costs and coverage.

As with his 80 previous books, which include Information Anxiety, Understanding Children and the popular Access travel guides, Understanding Healthcare takes a topic Wurman himself had trouble understanding and breaks it down into hundreds of questions and answers.

"I realized I knew more about the way my car works than the way my body works and decided to do something about that," says Wurman. "All of my books stem from my desire to know rather than already knowing."

While the book is not geared exclusively to older people, it covers a range of senior health issues, such as stroke, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, living wills, care-giving, Medicare, diabetes, long-term care, prescription drugs, chronic illness and pain management.

Understanding Healthcare also includes explanations of standard medical tests, health-care professionals and the services they provide, and even operating-room and other hospital equipment.

At the end of the book is a chapter on researching health issues online and a personal health diary with pages for emergency, medical, family and insurance contacts, medications, illnesses and conditions, tests and results, and other medical information. Project advisers on Understanding Healthcare included more than 60 doctors and scientists.

"As people get older, understanding health care becomes more important," says Wurman, 69.

Wurman, who has made a career of demystifying complex topics for his readers through the use of simple language and easy-to-understand graphics, calls himself an "information architect." His creations are built from words, pictures and graphics rather than metal and stone and are designed to help shatter what he calls "the myth of information overload and information anxiety."

"Information anxiety only occurs when information is not presented clearly," says Wurman, founder of the high-profile TED (technology, entertainment and design) and TEDMED conferences. "If you can't understand something, it's not because you're getting too much information, it's because it's not accessible."

Instead of flooding readers with statistics and medical terms, Wurman describes Understanding Healthcare as a conversation between himself and the reader. In the upper right hand corner of each topic section is an overview question. Right below is a short answer. Sections also include subsidiary questions and answers, facts, figures, sources and resources, as well as "Action Items," tips and suggestions to help readers become more active participants in their own health care.

The "Aging" section, for example, includes a rundown of the physical changes people can expect as they grow older, signs of aging, chronic illnesses many seniors will face and ways to stay healthy and live longer. The "Understanding Test Results" page explains false positives, false negatives, ruling in and ruling out diagnosis and reference ranges. "Long Term Care" covers the cost and types of long-term-care services, which is the best for your situation and a nursing home checklist for choosing the right facility.

Understanding Healthcare "empowers people to ask questions," says Wurman.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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