Digital health, and the power of the patient

Digital health, and the power of the patient

Eric TopolIn his new book, “The Patient Will See You Now,” Eric Topol envisions patients as partners in their own healthcare rather than petitioners to the medical establishment. Armed with smartphones equipped with apps to monitor vital signs and perform diagnostic tests, their reliance on physicians will diminish, he predicts, and doctors will generally assume a consulting rather than controlling role with their patients, who will monitor and manage their own health for the most part.

Topol notes that the technology is already available to perform many tests and exams via smartphone, including apps that check for ear or skin infections and perform electrocardiograms. He predicts that routine diagnostic tools will grow exponentially in the next few years. Doctors’ skills will continue to be important in emergencies and in treating serious or complicated conditions, he says. But for routine healthcare, patients will be in the drivers’ seat.

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Topol is a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif., a research and education center that focuses on genetic factors in health and disease and using digital technology for health monitoring. We spoke recently about his new book. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q. You’re pretty passionate that people should be the boss of their medical lives, including owning and taking charge of their medical information. But taking responsibility can be a scary burden. To what extent do you think people need to be persuaded that this is something they want for themselves?

A. First, most people have been suppressed for so long that they don’t realize they can be liberated. The information hasn’t been shared as it should be, and it and hasn’t been owned by people. In surveys, 80 percent of consumers say they want to have their medical data and take charge of it. But it’s not for everyone. There are people – some seniors, for example – who are happy with the way it is. But the dominant number of people want a new model. It’s their body and their data, so why shouldn’t they get it?

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