For some time, Dr. Eric J. Topol has been showing us technologies available today that offer a remarkable glimpse into the future of medicine. From his perch as director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, he has been explaining how the superconvergence of digital technology and life science will transform not just patient care but the entire infrastructure of medicine. He has spoken in venues like TedMed and at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2010 and earlier this month. (CES attracts about 140,000 visitors each year.) Now, Dr. Topol has published a new book, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” and shared a new idea of how to get physicians and healthcare providers up to speed. (I’ll talk about that in a future post.)
If you haven’t already heard of him, Dr. Topol is a cardiologist, geneticist and researcher. He spent much of his career at the Cleveland Clinic where he served as chairman of cardiovascular medicine and founded the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. As one of the first researchers to question the cardiovascular safety of rofecoxib (Vioxx), Dr. Topol has not always been beloved by the pharmaceutical sector. But over the last few years, his influential views on the use of digital and mobile technologies in patient care have attracted considerable attention and sparked the imagination of millions.
Dr. Topol believes that medicine is poised to enter its biggest shakeup in history, spurred by extraordinary innovation exploiting digital information. From developing drugs to helping patients stay healthy, the broad integration of mobile technologies and digital tools to medical care means treatment will never be the same. Dr. Topol explains in his book how iPhones, cloud computing, gene sequencing, wireless sensors, internet connectivity, advanced diagnostics, targeted therapies and other science will allow the personalization of medicine. Such changes will force a radical transformation in how medicine is delivered, regulated and reimbursed. He also looks at the modernized clinical trial and argues in the book that the 400-person clinical trial will look to the future pharmaceutical industry like the telegraph looks to smartphone users today.
We’re at the beginning of bringing big data to the clinic, laboratory, and hospital, gathered via wearable sensors, smartphone apps, and whole-genome scans that provide the raw materials for a revolution. Combining all the data those tools provide will give us a complete and continuously updated picture of every patient, and precise, real-time data on large groups of patients, changing everything from the treatment of disease to the prolonging of health, to the development of new treatments.
As the book description says: “As revolutionary as the past twenty years in personal technology and medicine have been—remember phones the sizes of bricks that only made calls, or when the most advanced ‘genotyping’ we could do involved discerning blood types and Rh-factors?—Dr. Topol makes it clear that we haven’t seen anything yet.”
Among the innovations covered in the book are at-home brain-monitors that help us improve our sleep, a technology he showed at CES two years ago. He talks about sensors that track all vital signs, catching everything from high blood pressure to low blood sugar to heart arrhythmia without invasive measurements to inconvenient and nerve-wracking hospital stays. Dr. Topol refers to this technology as an “ICU on the wrist” and says it won’t be long before we’re checking our vital signs on iPhones the way we check email today. He also highlights improved imaging techniques and the latest in printing technology that could allow us to print new organs, rather than looking for donors. Genetics can reveal who might be helped by a drug, unaffected by it, or even hurt by it, helping avoid problems.
Whether or not you agree with Dr. Topol or like him, his new book on this bio-digital transformation – downloadable on Kindle or iPad, of course – is well worth a read. It may not provide a diagram for that tricorder that Dr. Scott found so handy, but it does offer a cutting-edge look by one of America’s leading thinkers of how innovation can improve care while bringing down costs.