It’s not every day that you get a peek at the heart of one of America’s most well-known physicians. But noted cardiologist Eric Topol, who is the director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, gave the audience just that at AHIP’s Institute 2013. He also gave them a glimpse of the future of health care, according to his worldview. It’s a future dominated by digital technologies, with health care more personalized than ever, thanks to the sequencing of patient genomes, and with many mainstays of modern medicine conspicuously absent.
Topol kicked off his fascinating talk with a tour of some of his favorite smartphone-compatible gadgets, including:
- a cardiogram device.
- a gadget that allowed him to conduct an ultrasound of his heart. Topol envisions the tool as a total replacement for a stethoscope and common, more costly cardiac ultrasounds.
- a sensor that showed his vital signs. Topol called it an “ICU on the wrist.”
And there’s so much more: devices to measure lung function, pills to gather data on adherence, a tool to assess vocal function to diagnose depression, sleep studies at home rather than in a clinic.
“The new digital age has not penetrated the medical cocoon,” Topol said. “But it’s about to.”
In the world Topol envisions, rapidly advancing technology will facilitate a massive transformation in health care delivery. Smartphone add-ons coupled with avatars, robots and more could negate the need for hospitalization in nearly all cases. Physician office visits would be dramatically reduced. Health care costs would follow. Care could be immediate, from anywhere. Patients would become empowered, connected and participants in their own care thanks to the “democratization of medicine.”
Meanwhile, quality of care and the science of medicine will advance exponentially, thanks to increasing integration of genetic data into clinical practice. “We can move from the population medicine of the past to the individualized medicine of the future,” Topol said. That means, for example, patients who won’t respond to cancer drug X, which may cost thousands of dollars a month, won’t be treated with it. And clinicians can avoid costly, time consuming “diagnostic odysseys,” Topol said. Doctors are interpreters and educators, with devices augmenting and replacing their role in diagnosing disease. Efficacy is improved, waste is eliminated, patients are treated as individuals.
“There’s a big shake-up coming,” Topol said.