Smartphones Rebooting Medicine, Shifting Power to Consumers
Eric Topol, M.D., chief academic officer of San Diegos Scripps Health, has seen the future of medicinea future based on a fundamental shift in who accesses and owns medical dataor what he calls the rebooting of medicine.
You are your data but more importantly each individual needs to own their data. Thats where we need to be, Topol told an audience at last weeks AHIMA conference in San Diego. People deserve the respect that comes from data because the information science that were into now and going into much deeper has to be taken on by patients.
In this new era of digital healthcare, access and ownership of medical data will transition from physicians to consumers thanks to the rapid proliferation of smartphones and mobile health apps, he said. Moores Law is accelerating and revolutionizing medicine in unimaginable ways, according to Topol.
For one-fourth of Americans to adopt a new technology, it took over 40 years for electricity, 30 years for the telephone, 13 years for mobile phones, but only two years for smartphones, he exclaimed. Topol, author of the bestselling book The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare, argues that the smartphone will be the hub of the future of medicine.
Whether monitoring blood pressure or blood sugar levels or heart rates, smartphones will serve as medical dashboards helping consumers to track their own vital signs and overall health conditions, using that data to see patterns and warning signs of illness, Topol asserts.
As a cardiologist, I have most of my patients on an app to get their blood pressures displayed on a screen so they can diagnose and manage their own blood pressure, and also the same exists for glucose, he said. One of my favorite apps thats in common use and can now be bought directly by consumers is the smartphone electrocardiogram. The smartphone ECG is great because people can diagnose their own heart rhythm through computer algorithms. And, when you get an email that says Im in atrial fibrillation, now what do I do? that tells you the world is changing.
Topol said that Scripps is working with the California Institute of Technology on an embeddable sensor that monitors a patients bloodstream to predict the onset of a heart attack, hours, days and even weeks in advance. We have a genomic signature of cells that should be in the blood and denote that theres an arterial event thats incubating, Topol said. We have designed a system which hopefully will get into patients someday where we can couple the sensor with the genomic signal and you can have a warning in your phone about having a heart attack.
In the future, he made the case that tumor DNA in the blood will be similarly monitored through a smartphone to diagnose cancer. Smartphone-based apps with sensors and analyzers are already available to help detect cancer and thyroid disease, as well as conduct every routine lab test, according to Topol. Hospital labs are in serious trouble, vulnerable, he said. In fact, you can make a phone into a remarkably powerful microscope to diagnose pathogensthis is the whole idea of having a pathologist-in-the-pocket thats being advanced now.
But, Topol hastened to add that its not just about lab-on-a-chip and routine blood tests. Mobile devices will also serve as platforms for analyzing genotypes and targeted sequencing. In addition, he said x-rays taken with smartphones are going to become the new selfie in which consumers with a potential fracture get a diagnosis based on an algorithm to see if they should go to an emergency room.
When it comes to scheduling a doctors appointment, smartphones are creating on-demand medicine in which consumers will no longer wait weeks to see a primary care physician. Instead, they will do their own check-up and self-diagnosis and follow-up with a doctor on an as needed basis. The smartphone will see you now. Thats the revolution were talking about, said Topol. Were talking about democratizing medicine so that its for all people and its quick.
Are we going to have doctor-less patients? Thats the real question. And, I would say absolutely not, he concluded. But, so much of diagnosis and monitoring will be done in the future by the patient with relatively small input from doctors, who will shift in the role of this new partnership in which they will be involved in treatment, healing, communication and guidance. Thats the different way we go forward.