“Super Convergence” of Technologies Now Changing Medical Practice: Eric Topol MD

11-30-2012 5-40-40 AM

A “massive convergence” of smart phone technology, computing power, and genetics is rapidly transforming medical practice, Eric Topol, MD, Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, told HIMSS members in a November 28 webinar.

Dr. Topol, author of the best-selling book The Creative Destruction of Medicine, gave the presentation as part of the new HIMSS Healthcare 20/20 webinar series.

According to Dr. Topol, advances in genetics and computing power have already made obsolete mass screenings, such as imaging tests for colon and breast cancer.

“Reviewing three decades of breast cancer screenings, we know now there was substantial over diagnosis, many women were harmed unnecessarily,” Dr. Topol said. He believes that we have moved to an era of “precision medicine” at the individual level, where patients can be screened for individual genetic mutations.

Physicians are also collecting data in new ways, such as wireless sensors attached to smart phones. Dr. Topol said he dubbed the new branch of medicine “phonemics.”

Cardiologist Dr. Topol said, “I have not used a stethoscope for two and half years.” Instead, he uses an imaging device attached to his iPhone. He added that the medical school at Mt. Sinai in New York City no longer issues stethoscopes to its students, instead giving them a small, wireless device.

Dr. Topol said it is likely that with the spread of wireless technology, “a visit to a doctor’s office will eventually seem as foreign as a visit to a video store to check out a movie.”

He noted that Vinod Khosla, the famous Silicon Valley VC investor, has predicted that “80 percent of MDs could be replaced by technology.” See the full interview here. Topol added that he wasn’t convinced of this fact since other statistics show a future shortage of primary care physicians.

The best-selling author said that currently about a dozen companies will provide a complete sequencing of an individual’s genome for around $4,000. This cost of the sequencing will soon drop below $1,000 and the results will be available within one hour, he predicted.

Although the cost of genetic screening is rapidly falling, we still don’t have data from enough individuals to establish what is “normal,” he said.

Dr. Topol said it was very important that physicians give up “medical paternalism” where they insist on controlling patient information.

“Our new motto should be ‘Nothing about me without me,’” he said ,referring to ownership of medical data. He said the American Medical Association was wrong in its current policy of insisting that no genetic information be released to patients without counseling from a physician.

“We are entering a new era of medical information” that is leading to patient empowerment, he said likening it to “Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press that enabled many people to read books.”

James Harris is president of WestsidePR.com, a healthcare technology marketing agency.

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