Physicians may be marginalized as mobile tech engages us in healthcare

Mobile to usher in era of patient engagement, health conference told

NEW ORLEANS -- There will come a day in the not-so-distant future when physicians take a back seat in healthcare, and where patients will have the mobile tools to diagnose, and in some cases, treat themselves.

That was the summation of a keynote speech at the HIMSS13 Conference here given by Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health.

"Is your doctor becoming obsolete?" Topol said, quoting from a recent front-page headline in The Atlantic. "That was unthinkable until now. We have the components for a digital revolution."

The statement drew resounding applause from a packed hall at the conference, where more than 32,000 people are in attendance this week.

Topol took aim at the medical community, calling for an end to paternal medicine -- where only the physician has access to healthcare information -- and the beginning of a time when patients own their data.

"You have a doctor-patient relationship that today is based on asymmetry. A lot of information to the doctor, very little for the patient," he said. "We're about having ... information parity. That's exciting. We can get away from this superiority of physicians to patients. That has got to go."

Topol compared mobile technology to the Gutenberg press and the way it revolutionized the way information was shared throughout the world.

Topol highlighted a plethora of emerging mobile technology, such as wearable wireless monitors to smartphone attachments that will offer consumers the ability to track everything from core vital signs to impending heart attacks by discovering problems with heart tissue.

Topol demonstrated several mobile healthcare technologies, including a finger pulse oxymeter that plugged directly into an iPhone, and an iPhone case that doubled as a cardiogram when a person touched two sensors on the back of the case.

He pointed to Apple, which sells glucometer attachments for the iPhone, used by people with diabetes to test their blood sugar levels. "Who would have thought that would ever happen," he said.

Topol also noted that just 10 years ago, there was no Skype, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest or iPhone, among other top social networking and mobile technologies.

"All of these things are not even a decade old and they're transforming our digital world. Except in medicine -- so far," he said. "It hasn't hit medicine yet, but it will."

"We have a problem," he continued. "We have all this engagement, but we don't know that much about patients yet. We're still in this Voltaire era about doctors prescribing medicines of which they know little for patients they know even less and of human beings of which they know nothing."

The problem, Topol explained, is a lack of information on patients as individuals and as a larger community. For example, gene sequencing, which at one time cost millions of dollars to perform on a single person, today costs just $4,000, he said.

Through the use of genomic information, personalized medicine will come of age, allowing customized medicines to be used to treat a myriad of illnesses, from cancer to diabetes, Topol said.

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