I just read the best article of the year (as short as it is so far) about the future of medicine. It appeared in the Wall Street Journal and is penned by Eric Topol, MD author of the excellent book “The Patient Will See You Now.”
Topol’s article, entitled The Future of Medicine Is in Your Smartphone, is so spot on that I can’t hit the like button or tweet about it enough.
Having been in the digital health arena for the last five years I can attest to all the points of frustration and elation of where the future of medicine is going to go – and make no mistake about it, it will happen. Mobile health devices and the complete set of tools that are coming out daily (tracking heart rhythms, blood pressure, ECG apps to name just a few) are feeding ever growing amounts of data to our mobile devices which in turn are interpreting that data into actionable items.
Think about that for a minute. This is a Henry Ford moment in time if there ever was one.
The triumvirate is now finally upon us. Big Data, the Cloud and The Internet of Things are no longer neat ideas but are now very real actionable items. In the middle of this triangle, insert the patient and the biggest source of data, the human body. Now, let your mind run free with the possibilities, because they are endless.
Does this mean the physician will be completely replaced? Of course not. On production lines today there is still human interaction, but think about how that changed. From Ford’s production line to the lines of today, really consider that change. Health care will be the same way, but it will happen at such a rapid pace that we won’t recognize the current system in 10 years time.
Not only that, but I see the smartphone as only the interim step. With cognitive computing a real thing and Artificial Intelligence right around the corner, the smartphone itself will give way to something akin to Johnny Mnemonic. Implantable devices will someday be the receptor of all the data that our body produces and constantly will monitor it. It is only a matter of time.
But for the immediate future, one only has to look at the recent CES Show to see the viability of (for lack of a better term) mobile health devices and applications. This intermediate step is a real and exciting possibility.
Does that come at a cost? Most certainly. With Big Data comes even bigger responsibility. Personal privacy and security in this brave new world will be challenged like never before. As will be the effort to monitor and control all these devices and apps. This is your health we are talking about, and the thought of trying to ensure the quality and sanctity of those devices and apps will be beyond challenging. Having the networks to keep up with the enormity of this data will be mind blowing. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Regardless, it is the article I can’t stop talking about. I have seen the changes rapidly coming to medicine in the last few years and the thoughts that have come to me about creating a “Jarvis” like system to encompass the patient (Iron Man reference intended) is spelled out in this article so well and with such enthusiasm and practicality that I can’t stop thinking about it.
The trained physician will never be completely replaced, nor is anyone suggesting anything to the contrary. The doctor-patient relationship will still exist but it will evolve. The future is now, and finally the patient gets be the party of responsibility at the table. That may be the biggest paradigm shift in the whole equation, but if as a society we can come to realize that our bodies and our health are our responsibility, then any devices and data that can help us in that fight is ultimately a good thing.