Apr 16, 2012
(The Wall Street Journal, April 13) — The Wall Street Journal’s Ron Winslow discussed with Dr. Topol the implications of genomics and wireless converging. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
WSJ: Let’s start with the title. “Creative Destruction” is a provocative term. What needs to be destroyed?
DR. TOPOL: There are two levels. One is that in medicine, everything we do essentially is at the population level. Whether it’s mass screening or giving the same medication to all people with a particular diagnosis, this doesn’t recognize the individuality of people. I think it’s fundamentally flawed. We now have the tools to do much better.
The other is this analog world medicine lives in. The field has resisted a truly remarkable digital infrastructure to the nth degree. It hasn’t really embraced genomics, wireless biosensors or advanced imaging that could be used to make medicine more precise. Or social networking.
The digital world has been in a separate orbit from our medical cocoon, and it’s time the boundaries be taken down.
WSJ: So what are the tools challenging the status quo?
DR. TOPOL: The ability to sequence the human genome is finally making a difference, but it’s far beyond that. By applying biosensors to the body, we can measure any physiologic metric—blood pressure, glucose, oxygen concentration in the blood—and send the data wirelessly through smartphones to doctors. That means you have this panoramic, high-definition, relatively comprehensive view of a patient that doctors can use to assess and manage disease, and that patients can use to help maintain their health and direct their own care.
That is the essence of digitizing a human being. For medical purposes, it’s getting all the essential data, and it will be the information to radically transform the future of medicine. Many of these things could be adapted today.
WSJ: What’s the particular role of the smartphone?
DR. TOPOL: We’re all essentially surgically connected to our smartphones, and we’re still in the early stages of realizing their medical potential. But they should be a real threat to the medical profession.
You can get an add-on to a smartphone which does eye refraction and then texts [the prescription] to get your glasses made. If you’re an optometrist, you might be worried about that. Or you can get your skin lesion scanned and get a text back quickly that there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re a dermatologist, that’s a big part of your practice. You will be able to take a DNA sequence on a USB port and pop it into your smartphone and get data out of it. It just goes on and on.
You can find the rest of the article at The Wall Street Journal Online.