HIMSS Keynoter Dr. Eric Topol: On the Democratization of Medicine

March 6, 2013
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68 percent of physicians refuse to e-mail their patients. That is a problem, Topol argues
HIMSS Keynoter Dr. Eric Topol: On the Democratization of Medicine
Dr. Eric Topol

“Nothing about me without me.” That is the mantra of patient engagement and participation that HIMSS 13 conference attendees heard from Eric Topol, M.D., 
the keynote speaker on Tuesday, March 5, in New Orleans.

Topol, the West Endowed Chair of Innovative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., gave an engaging and wide-ranging talk that brought together several forces at work in healthcare ranging from self-service wearable sensor devices to the increasing importance of genomics. But unifying those trends is the driving force of the democratization of medicine, he said.

Topol is the author of a new book called The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How The Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care.  His keynote address touched on many of its themes about how social networking, smartphones and tools that sequence the genome will give consumers control of their own individual information and revolutionize medicine.

And just as having access to data will change how patients behave, physicians need to change their mindset, Topol said. "We practice medicine today at a population level. We do everything the same. We don't recognize each person as an individual.We now have the tools to do that. We didn't before.”

Topol also said that remote monitoring and telehealth may soon vastly reduce the need for office visits and for patients to stay in hospitals. We don't’ want patients in the hospital if we can do all this monitoring at home, where they are safer and more comfortable, he said.

The traditional doctor-patient relationship was based on asymmetry in information. Now there is a lot more information parity. The medical field needs to change, he noted. “Paternalistic medicine has ended,” he stressed. The AMA says no information should be sent directly to patients without a provider communication. “That is a bad policy,” Topol said. In a recent survey, 68 percent of physicians refuse to e-mail their patients. “That is a problem,” he said. “E-mail is a pretty basic form of communication.” Another survey asked physicians whether patients should get direct access to their lab results. “How could you even ask that question?” Topol asked the audience.

Doctors should be teachers, and they and their patients should be getting information together, he said. The iBlueButton allowing patients to download their data is a step in the right direction, he said. Topol ended his talk with a funny movie clip of the movie “Jerry Maguire” with Tom Cruise. It features a scene in which characters say “Show Me the Money!” to each other repeatedly. Topol and his staff took the liberty of doing voice-overs. “Show Me the Data!” they said over and over again. That is what he predicts we will all be saying soon. After all, he noted, it’s our data.

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