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“Medicine’s ‘biggest change’ near, Eric J. Topol, M.D. says”—MODERN HEALTHCARE

Mar 24, 2011

By David Burda

Dr. Eric Topol mixed together advances in social media, wireless technologies and genomics to paint a picture of the future of healthcare in which individuals receive warnings on their smartphones that they’re about to have a medical incident that needs attention from a physician or hospital. Topol gave one of Thursday morning’s keynote addresses on the final day of the American College of Healthcare Executives annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago.

Topol is the director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego and former chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s department of cardiovascular medicine.

“Medicine is about to go through its biggest change in history,” Topol said, opening his 90-minute presentation with anecdotes and data on how social media such as Facebook and Twitter are changing the relationship between patients and physicians.

He said social media tools are allowing patients to build their own online communities around their particular medical situations, a development that has resulted in patients trusting their peers more than their physicians and other providers.

At the same time, advances in wireless technologies are enabling patients to “seamlessly and passively” capture real-time and continuous data on health status and transmit the data to practitioners, Topol said. He offered numerous examples of technologies that collect data such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, number of steps taken a day and sleep cycles and send that information to awaiting practitioners charged with monitoring patients’ health status. Topol suggested that in the future even individual pills would have embedded sensors to track medication use by patients.

Topol then described the growing role that genomics is playing in the development of personalized medicine, particularly in the area of pharmaceutical use. Prior to prescribing a drug for a particular medical condition, a patient will be screened to determine whether that drug will be effective, a waste of time or even lethal depending on the person’s genetic makeup.

“There are lots of drugs being used today that have no effect,” Topol said, a situation that leads to billions of dollars of unnecessary healthcare spending in the U.S.

Yet, the future of healthcare as he said he envisions it won’t happen without consumers demanding it, Topol said.

“Physicians unless they’re reimbursed won’t do anything,” he said. “If we rely on the medical community to change, it will be hopeless.”

Topol also cited poor hospital information technology systems, shoddy privacy laws and bureaucratic federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the CMS as other barriers to innovation.

“There is no interest in executing innovation,” Topol said. “We need a massive consumer movement.”