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Digitization, Democratization of medicine will put patients in charge of their own healthcare

GQ dubbed "Rock Star of Science" Eric Topol, M.D. tells HFMA crowd that smartphones, technology are putting medicine in patients' hands.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Eric Topol, M.D., renowned cardiologist, researcher, author addresses HFMA ANI audience.Eric Topol, M.D., renowned cardiologist, researcher, author addresses HFMA ANI audience.

LAS VEGAS - "130 million ultrasounds are done in the U.S. per year. Why shouldn't they be done during the physical exam with modern digital equipment saving a $100 billion a year?"

Cardiologist Eric Topol asked that question of a large audience at the Healthcare Financial Management Association 2016 Annual National Institute Monday.

Topol showed his listeners exactly what he meant, having used his own smartphone and an attached device to do ultrasounds on himself. The images were crystal clear, and done from the comfort of his own home.

This type of technology is exactly what Topol believes will rule the future of patient care. That is, the patient will be largely in control, able to diagnose such things as ear infections and skin rashes, and doing their own cardiograms, with their smartphones, an attached imaging device and algorithms that are used to make the diagnosis.

"I'm a tremendous proponent of that. Democratization of medicine, giving people more charge of their health, of their medical data, of only their medical data. That's going to happen now that they can generate a lot of it. It's inevitable. This is a flip, an inversion of medicine as it's been practiced for over two millennia," Topol said during an earlier conversation before coming to ANI 2016.


Healthcare Finance will be covering the 2016 HFMA ANI through the week. For our complete coverage, click here. Follow the event's hashtag at #HFMA2016ANI.


Some of these self-diagnosing and self-monitoring capabilities are approved and available now, Topol said Monday at ANI. In addition to imaging, which he exhibited himself, Topol showed his audience a watch awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval, that can take blood pressure, showing the numbers on its face.

There is also an app that allows a person to take his or her own glucose readings every five minutes by wearing a tiny sensor on the body. It transmits data to a watch or smartphone for pennies a day and makes patients' glucose levels much easier to monitor, Topol said.

He even predicted that patients will have virtual health coach if desired, and receive alerts when their data shows a concern, such as a rise in blood pressure or glucose levels. The virtual coach will even be able to issue a warning when the data signals a possible asthma attack, seizure or other preventable episode.

"We can do things now that we never could before, and they're very inexpensive and they could really make a big difference in how medicine is practiced," Topol said.

It's not just convenience and consumerism that make these types of innovations attractive. There is also the potential for cost savings both for providers and patients, Topol explained.

"It's already been shown that connecting with a doctor through telemedicine, through a mobile device is quick and reduces expenses because a lot of tests that would otherwise be ordered are not done," he said. "The results have been very encouraging and now insurers are starting to cover it and that also includes the doctor coming to the house - an Uber type medicine."

He envisions a future in which clinics become obsolete, with most patients working with doctors through telemedicine/video chat and using their smartphones for most common primary care needs, including data exchange platforms where people send their labs, images and sensor data to be algorithmically interpreted.

It will be up to the doctor to give oversight, and the wisdom and experience to make some recommendations. But with more being done digitally, care will be cheaper because there's no assistant personnel, receptionists, waiting rooms, heat, utilities, and other overhead.

[Also: Telemedicine gains popularity thanks to lower costs]

"It's all done virtually and it guts the cost of delivering care. It can be done from anywhere, to anywhere. It leverages the digital infrastructure that we have which hasn't been done in a meaningful way yet," Topol said.

Topol said his plea is for providers and the industry overall to embrace this new technological future because, quite frankly, it's coming. There will still be hospitals with regular intensive care units, operating rooms and emergency rooms but in many other areas, the landscape will change drastically, and patients will take control.

"People will become co-pilots of their healthcare rather than the backseat of the passenger bus or plane. It's not for everyone, but for people who want to take much more charge, it will be available."

"130 million ultrasounds are done in the U.S. per year. Why shouldn't they be done during the physical exam with modern digital equipment saving a $100 billion a year?"

Twitter: @BethJSanborn

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