Speaker predicts genomic, wireless digital advances will erode physician power

  • March 2, 2014

SAN DIEGO —Two converging streams of medical innovation will quench patients’ desire for control and eventually squeeze out physicians, according to a keynote speech here by Eric J. Topol, MD, at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology annual meeting.

Genomic and wireless digital innovations are “the seeds of a medical revolution,” Topol said.

To support his prediction, he cited recent polls showing that 70% of people already say they would prefer a virtual visit over a personal visit to a physician.

“So there probably won’t be a doctor shortage,” said Topol, a cardiologist at Scripps in La Jolla, Calif., professor of Genomics at the Scripps Research Institute and chief academic officer of Scripps Health.

Eric Topol 

Eric J. Topol

Large, cumbersome human cohorts will no longer be the key to research when various geographic information systems (GIS) can map individual genomes and single tumors. And the speed of progress in genomics has even surpassed Moore’s Law of ever-expanding computer processing power, bringing the cost of sequencing down to nearly $1,000 per individual, he reminded physicians.

Many of the wireless, digital devices seeding this revolution are already here, being developed now or could be designed based on current technology, he told attendees.

Topol cited two digital innovations, the smart phone and wireless – and often wearable – sensor technology as leading forces. Among those he said are now or soon to be available include:Passive, real-time blood pressure and glucose monitors

  • Smart phones applications to detect lung and heart function
  • Digital pills that monitor adherence
  • Sensors in the human blood stream
  • Wearable sensors to detect a variety of vital signs
  • Smart phone applications that take X-rays or transform into ophthalmoscopes or otoscopes
  • Diagnostic algorithms to screen patients for treatment
  • Molecular autopsies

“Someday soon, you will be able to check your email and your vitals in real-time,” Topol said.

He began his presentation by asking AAAAI attendees whether they use Twitter, to a tiny show of hands. Along the way, Topol gently mocked physicians for continuing to use stethoscopes in an age when portable ultrasound devices provide real-time images of the heart.

He ended his keynote speech by telling attendees that medicine’s “ingrained paternalism” is the most significant hurdle to his predictions. – by Charles Wray

Disclosures: Topol reports financial ties with Cypher Genomics, DexCom and Illumina.

For More information:

Topol EJ. #2701: Genomic and Wireless Digital Innovation: Reshaping the Future of Medicine. Presented at the 2014 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology annual meeting; Feb. 28-March 4, San Diego.

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