Pathologists will want to engage with physicians as wireless devices and smartphone apps make it possible to maintain continuous surveillance of the body
Pathologists might want to borrow a page from a tech-savvy doctor who was voted the “Most Influential Physician Executive” in 2012. A cardiologist, this physician says he now prescribes mobile applications for his patients almost as frequently as he prescribes therapeutic drugs.
Many clinical laboratory managers will recognize the name of Eric Topol, M.D., who is the Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, Professor of Genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, and Chief Academic Officer at Scripps Health, all located in La Jolla, California. Topol has a passion for wireless medical technology. Moreover, he is nationally recognized as a wireless medical technology trailblazer, as well as for his medical expertise.
In fact, in one news clip, NBC News touts him as the nation’s foremost expert in the explosion of wireless medicine. Topol was also selected by GQ Magazine in 2009 as one of the nation’s 12 “Rock Stars of Science.”
Prescribing More Mobile Apps Than Medications
“These days I’m actually prescribing a lot more apps than medications,” declared Topol in the NBC interview. “You can take it [smartphone] home and make it a lab-on-a-chip. You can do blood tests, saliva tests, urine tests, all kinds of things—sweat tests—through your phone. This is a powerful device,” he added, holding up his iPhone. (See Dark Daily, “New iPhone App Allows Consumers to Test Their Urine on the Go for as Many as 25 Different Diseases,” April 26, 2013.)
“There’s so much technology now that by using the digital structure that exists today, we could make the office visit an enjoyable thing,” he told the reporter. “Not only that, it doesn’t have to be in person. There’s no reason why a lot of [medical laboratory] tests can’t be done remotely. In fact, anything we do can be done remotely.”
Topol pointed out that wireless medical devices make medical tests more convenient and save patients and health insurers a bundle of money. For example, GE Healthcare’s (NYSE: GE) Vscan wireless device does ultrasounds on the spot, saving about $800 compared to the cost of an echocardiogram test at a hospital or other imaging facility.
He noted that about 20 million echocardiograms are performed each year. “Eight-hundred dollars times 20 million is a lot of money!” he emphasized. “We can probably get rid of 70% to 80% [of $800 ultrasounds] just by having this as part of the annual physical exam.”
Another mobile application that that Topol uses is AliveCor’s (ALIVCOP) Heart Monitor iPhone app. This app was recently approved by the FDA and performs EKGs during patient visits, thus saving the $100 tech fee. The app costs doctors $199.
Mobile Applications Are Part of the Future of Digital Medicine
Speaking at the 2010 TED conference on Transforming Healthcare, Topol said that the mobile apps available today are just the beginning. Digital medical devices will change the delivery of healthcare and improve quality by setting up a “perfect, positive storm” of consumer-driven healthcare. In turn, this will result in “a data-driven health revolution [that] promises to make us all better, faster and stronger–call it living by numbers,” he added.
In 2012, he published a book titled “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care.” It discusses the future role of digital medicine in healthcare.
Topol believes digital medicine can put patients in control of their health. He is a living example of the future he envisions. With a family history of diabetes, Topol wears a sensor that monitors his glucose level and sends it to his iPhone, letting him know when it is time to stop eating his favorite snack—tortilla chips (via jones www.dresshead.com). He noted, in the NBC interview, that this device could help people with diabetes better manage their disease.
He said that the future of healthcare will be devices that provide continuous surveillance of the body, like the glucose monitor and health attack alarm system.
“The patient of tomorrow is the biggest switch,” Topol told NBC. “People need to take ownership [of their health]—they need to seize the moment. The new medicine is plugged into you. It understands you, and you drive it,” he explained, noting that people will have full access to information and data on their own health status that they’ve never had before.
Reshaping the Future of Medicine
He is working on a smartphone app that warns the patient of an impending heart attack within a week or two. He explained that this heart attack alarm system involves injecting a tiny sensor, smaller than a grain of sand, into a patient’s bloodstream. When cells are shed from the artery lining, which is a precursor to heart attack, the sensor sets off a signal to the patient’s smartphone that triggers a distinctive heart attack ringtone.
He also is working on a mobile wrist monitor that monitors everything a hospital intensive care unit does wirelessly. Topol noted that the device could be used to continuously monitor a patient’s progress remotely after discharge from the hospital.
Wireless Medicine’s Many Uses in Patient Care
Despite Topol’s research focus, he continues to see patients at Scripps Clinic, as he believes that research is only as good as what it can do to help others. He contends that wireless medicine can make healthcare better and cheaper and is well known for using wireless medical technology in his medical practice. Topol believes these devices improve diagnostics and “… make the whole patient-doctor interaction more intimate, because now I’m sharing the results in real time.”
– Patricia Kirk