From TED talks to the Wall Street Journal to The Colbert Report, cardiologist Eric Topol is the ubiquitous spokesman for medicine’s next wave, where unobtrusive gadgets work with smartphones and sophisticated analytics to continuously monitor signs of health and sickness, alerting both patients and their doctors long before a crisis hits. He first became intrigued by the possibilities of technology in the early 1990s, when he worked with a company that was developing a way to do heart monitoring over the Internet. “I realized that this could be ginormous,” he says. Upon moving to San Diego in 2006, he found himself at the epicenter of wireless medicine, with more than 150 companies in the immediate area that were developing products in the field. One of Topol’s chief research activities is to validate whether these technologies work, and whether they’re better, faster, and cheaper than what’s currently available. “You can’t start using this stuff until you prove, unequivocally, that it’s measuring accurately,” Topol says. One recent study showed that a simple adhesive sensor patch collected more cardiac data, more easily and cheaply, than the Holter monitors that have been standard technology since 1949. As for his own patients, Topol finds himself prescribing apps more often than he prescribes medications. “They take many [blood pressure] readings a day and they know what’s happening in their lives,” he says. “They’re now much more engaged, activated and contextualized.” Below, he talks with HDM about some of the implications of the impending tech revolution.
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