Eric Topol on Wireless Medicine

By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

Eric Topol is one of the most preeminent cardiologists in the world. He’s also a blogger and TED speaker.

At TEDMED this past fall, he spoke about some applications possible with wireless medicine – using sensors in smartphones, wristbands, headbands, chest straps, shoes and adhesive patches. These are cool on their own, but their place in the evolution of healthcare is what’s most interesting. They can begin to take the place of 12-lead Holter electrocardiograms, sleep labs and electroencephalograms, lancets and glucose monitors, overnight hospital stays – all of the things that inconvenience the patient and cost the health care system tremendous amounts of money. Some of these are prototyped but many are already available.

His 20-minute talk is important because it brings home the real potential of technology in healthcare.

It’s not just to make things that are smaller and cooler. It’s not even just to make one patient’s experience better.

The potential of technology in healthcare is to create devices and services that can improve global patient outcomes while lowering global healthcare costs.

Keeping people well is not just a nice idea – it’s a fiscally responsible one.

How will these devices come into healthcare? To really begin to prove themselves will require clinical trials, showing that the use of these little gadgets can make a measurable difference in the treatment of a patient. How will this work? Will the FDA begin to require 510(k) clearance on the Nike+ or the Wii Fit? Will intergovernmental procedural questions hold up the progress or potential of wireless medicine?

No, probably not. It might take a while to get the data to back up clinical proof of concept. But these devices, by their very nature, will catch on. They’re small, they’re widely available (go to your Apple store, to a website, to the iPhone), they’re not prohibitively expensive (at least not, for starters, in First World countries) and – this is the key – they’re easy to see the potential in.

Consumers will lead this charge, and the industry and regulators will scramble to keep up.

Topol ends his talk with a list of the disease states that present the top opportunities for wireless medicine. They are also, not coincidentally, the biggest pharmaceutical markets.

Can you come ahead of the curve?

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