How medicine will be Topol’d

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 1, 2012        

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Creative Destruction MedicineAt the very beginning of Dr. Eric Topol’s book, The Creative Destructive of Medicine, and throughout its chapters, he invokes the name of Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, who is credited with popularizing the term “creative destruction.” Topol’s book argues that medicine will inevitably be “Schumpetered”, and as he told MobiHealthNews in a recent interview, he believes this creative destruction will be rather swift. What’s more, he believes it needs to be.

Dr. Topol contends that the creative destruction of medicine requires four key ingredients: wireless sensors, genomics, imaging, and HIT. He organized his book largely around these four. While he’s clearly passionate about the first three, Topol admits that healthcare information technology, while “not unimportant” is still boring and much more like the “operating system” that the “tools” of wireless sensors, genomics and imaging will run on.

“The super convergence [of all four] will lead to the high definition digitization of man for the first time,” Topol told MobiHealthNews. “It will be much more participatory since it will include things like the individual’s DNA and the individual’s health records on that individual’s phone. This is information about them, not about a population. So, they will have to be engaged.”

The problem is consumers don’t know about wireless sensors, Topol says. Neither do doctors. That’s why Topol wrote his book.

“I think this is all inevitable,” he said. “The only question is: Is this a slower paced story than the one I am predicting? I don’t think so. We are on track to read every vital sign and mood now.”

Topol believes that we are currently in the “wearable sensor” phase of wireless health. ”The next phase, though, will be nanosensors embedded in the blood to detect specific things,” he said. One application for this technology is for preventing diabetes, according to Topol. “It takes about five years to develop diabetes,” he said. “If it takes five years, why can’t we detect that process? Currently we have medicines but we don’t know when the immune system is under attack. It’s not a constant attack, it’s episodic, but a nanosensor could detect that.” Topol believes that wearable and nanosensors will lead to constant surveillance of vital signs and specific targets in the bloodstream. These could help predict heart attacks a week or two out.

For digital health to succeed, however, Topol believes there needs to be a consumer health revolution. Topol’s vision for the creative destruction of medicine, relies heavily on a consumers or patients rising up, thanks to the power of their social networks, to demand these new digital health tools from their physicians. The advent of direct-to-consumer advertising in pharmaceuticals could provide some inspiration for how the creative destruction might come from outside the system. (Topol noted he is and was against DTC drug marketing.)

It won’t start with physicians. Topol pointed out that it takes about 17 years for a new medical technology to go from being accepted to being a part of routine care. “We can’t wait 17 years,” Topol said. “So, we can’t let the medical community drive it.”

Online health communities like PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether — where hundreds of thousands of patients trust their virtual peers more than they trust their doctor — are already disrupting medicine today, Topol said. A movement is happening in these online health communities, but some surveys show almost 90 percent of physicians have never heard of them.

“It is an expression of a consumer health revolution that is just budding,” Topol said. “It’s in its nascent phase, but it is happening right now. I think the consumer-savvy base is waking up. There is a reset here. This digitization of human beings will make a parody out of doctor knows best. We need partnerships. We need physicians working and guiding individuals. Each individual will have a much more precise view of himself or herself biologically, physiologically, anatomically, to work in partnership with physicians.”

At that point, it’s much more likely that we will look back and say that medicine as we knew it was — not “Schumpetered” — but Topol’d.

Dr. Topol’s The Creative Destruction of Medicine is on sale here. (It makes for a great read for anyone interested in this industry.)

  • Mbidu121

    There is no doubt that the Medicine will be Topol-Shumpeterd as in turbo-destructed. Look at the speed and direction of change in technology and the speed and powerful network effects of social networks. We have 5 billion wireless sensors (future phones and smart phones) in the hands of consumers and, according to a report at the 2011 Mobile World Congress, more than 1 trillion wireless devices (in all industries not just healthcare) on the planet.

    The super-convergence that Dr. Eric Topol is talking about in his excellent book is real. Change is happening now. Imagine what will happen when +5 billion consumer sensors will start “talking” with another 5, 10, 20 billions of smart homes, smart offices, smart cars, smart buildings, smart machines, smart cities. Precision, location-based, contextual, personalized medicine will occur!

    Like any revolution that has universal significance and deep effect on our lives it will be the consumers who will drive the change and demand the medicine to be digitized.

    Not only we see more and more entrepreneurs from San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, New York to Vancouver, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Mexico City creating destructive solutions for an old and stuck-in-the-past healthcare system but it is encouraging to see “rebels” from inside the status quo (physicians, CIOs, nurses) who have experienced new, fast, useful, meaningful and even fun digital tools and applications take action and ask their boards to go digital.

    I am one of the lucky readers and fans of Dr. Eric Topol and at the recent HiMSS in Las Vegas I got an autograph from the man himself. I am now officially and irrevocably “Topoled” and I am doing something about it, which is the first digital health accelerator in Canada for the world’s most talented entrepreneurs.

    The world needs more creative destruction of medicine faster. What are YOU going to do about it?

  • Anupam

    creaive destruction of medicines, the name itself is fasinating. And “Prevention is better than cure”, if each one of us will be able to keep a check on what is happening in our body we can prevent lots of illness. Emergencies can be turned into regular doctor visits. A brilliant idea. thanks