Author: Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Publisher: Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 978-0-521-87797-8, Publication date: 2010, Pages: 416, Price: $75

Audience: Biomedical Engineering for Global Health is a textbook intended for “students from all disciplines” with an “interest in the fields of bioengineering and global health.” To reach this wide audience, the book provides a relatively non-technical overview of its topics.

The author is a professor of bioengineering at Rice University. She and her students have carried out a number of bioengineering projects within the university and in developing countries, primarily in Africa. The book includes dispatches (blog entries, actually) from students while they were working overseas. In this way, the book serves not only as an introductory text for the classroom but also as a method of engaging and perhaps inspiring the next wave of students.

Features: As would be expected of a university textbook, Biomedical Engineering for Global Health includes numerous references, case studies, and homework assignments, plus guidelines throughout for a student design project incorporating the principles addressed in the book. In addition, the author's website (follow the link at www.cambridge.org/globalhealth) provides a wealth of free class-related materials. As part of a university course with the stated audience and objectives, this book is an excellent resource.

Assessment: I am always on the lookout for resources for international clinical engineering. What does this book have to offer in that regard? First, let it be said that the term “clinical engineering” is not mentioned in the book. The list of bioengineering specialties includes biomedical imaging, biosensors and bioinstrumentation, biomechanics, biomaterials and drug delivery, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, biosystems engineering and physiology, and molecular and cellular engineering, all of which are addressed at least briefly. Of these specialties, biomedical imaging gets the most attention.

Another indication that the book stops short of clinical engineering is a recurring chart that shows a “road map of the healthcare technology development process,” which serves as an organizing principle for the text. It begins with the “Science of Understanding Disease” and proceeds through “Emerging Health Technologies” to “Adoption and Diffusion.” In other words, the road map ends with the availability of new technologies that are (if the road map has been followed carefully) responsive to the genuine health needs of a patient population. It doesn't chart the subsequent steps of the journey into the clinical environment and actual patient care.

But, as we know, that stretch of road has some bumps in it. Planning, acquisition, and management of technology in the clinical environment are challenging endeavors, especially in developing countries. The book does not address these issues except in a few paragraphs, and a single photograph, in its very last pages.

So is there anything in the book for us? In my opinion, the answer is yes. There are useful chapters on health status, economic status, and healthcare systems around the world. And beyond the information contained within the book itself there is a wide range of references to material that goes into greater depth. Coupled with the material on the author's website (ranging from books and journal articles to online blogs, videos, and podcasts) the book demonstrates the vast array of information that is accessible to us when we pursue topics of interest.

The book also provides practical material on clinical trials and theoretical material on technology diffusion. These are topics that can deepen our thinking about how medical technology moves into the clinical environment. There is also a good chapter on medical device regulation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets a lot of criticism in the United States, but it truly serves as a bulwark against unsafe and ineffective medical devices. The quackery and dangerous nonsense that afflict countries without effective device regulation is simply appalling.

If you're interested in the topic of international biomedical engineering, check out this book and check out the author's website. Most of the material is at a basic level, but it's sometimes worthwhile to review the basics and shore up the foundation of our knowledge. The more we know, the more we can do.