LAS VEGAS—Smartphones, with their compact computing power, are allowing more and more patients to get care and diagnostics outside of healthcare settings—an irresistible trend that hospitals and clinicians need to embrace, Dr. Eric Topol told the Healthcare Financial Management Association annual conference Monday.
Topol, who is a practicing cardiologist at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, said most physicians are still using a stethoscope when they could be using an inexpensive hand-held ultrasound machine plugged into a smartphone to watch and record a heart in action.
During his 45-minute presentation, he rattled off several other medical devices—some available on Amazon for as little as $69—that consumers can buy to help manage chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high blood-pressure.
Topol, the author of The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands, said a Band-Aid-sized monitor is available today to allow patients to do a sleep study at home instead of the typical $4,000 one in a hospital overnight. Topol also is director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute.
Wristwatches can gauge blood pressure better than the traditional blood-pressure cuff kits. Tiny sensors placed just under the skin allow patients to do glucose reads every five minutes without the cost and inconvenience of pricks, Topol said.
And genome sequencing can now be done for $250, bringing the technology to the masses as a crucial way to target drugs and interventions at people who have diseases or are prone to them, he said.
He estimates that the 1 million people who have had sequencing done today will grow to 1 billion by 2025.
These technologies—most available without a prescription—are going to fundamentally change the way medicine is practiced, he said to the assembled healthcare finance professionals.
Already, technology is giving rise to so-called “Uber medicine,” in which patients can arrange a home visit from a doctor in hours instead of the 2.6 weeks on average it takes to get an appointment with a primary-care physician, Topol said.
New apps for smartphones are available that can diagnose tremors in Alzheimer's patients and signal the need for medication, while another supports people with depression during its onset.
These breakthroughs may help to solve another big problem for healthcare—cybersecurity, Topol suggested. Patients should be carrying their own records instead of health systems storing them in servers or in the cloud, he said.
Today, medical data is legally owned by hospitals and physicians rather than the patients in every state except New Hampshire, Topol said.
That data should reside with the patient, he said. And a smartphone has the computing and storage capability for the 80% of U.S. adults who own one.
"We have a medicalized smartphone,” Topol said.