Topol on Why Medical Gutenberg Is Important for Clinicians


February 15, 2013

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Hello. I'm Dr. Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In The Creative Destruction of Medicine series, named for the book I wrote, I am trying to zoom in on critical aspects of how the digital world can create better healthcare.

"Medical Gutenberg": What do I mean by that? If we go back to the 1400s and the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg, you know how transformative that invention was. The high priests were no longer the only ones who could read; the ability to read books was unleashed to the public. Many years, many centuries have passed since those times, but here in the 21st century we're getting consumers -- the public -- to read medical stuff. And why is this important? Not only can a smartphone get you all the data you need -- whether it's glucose, vital signs, blood pressure, or heart rhythm -- you also get algorithms, with the data processed and given back to you. You don't even know if you need to contact a physician because that flow of data and information is now in the hands of the consumer. And they're learning to read and understand it. For example, I have patients who I'm now getting hundreds of blood pressure readings from, whereas I never would have had any readings before. And they know what is abnormal, what percent is abnormal, and even what day of the week and what the circumstances are that precipitate abnormal blood pressures.

That's going to continue in the future -- this ability of consumers to take that data and learn from it, read it, and get facile with it. It's going to extend to genomics and understanding the drug interactions with one's own genome. It's going to extend in every which way where there's a data information domain in the hands of consumers. There was always an information asymmetry whereby the high priests or the doctors [held the information]; now we're moving from information asymmetry to information parity. This really sets up a unique experience, but it won't [happen] for all consumers because they're not all going to want to learn to read and get into this [medical information]. But who has the most vested interest in one's health if it isn't that individual, that patient?

That's Medical Gutenberg. That's the opportunity that lies ahead with digital medicine -- shifting that information and data to the patient requiring the guidance, knowledge, and experience from physicians. But there will be a reset of how powerful consumers will be when this information parity is fully established.

Thanks for joining this segment, and stay tuned for more from The Creative Destruction of Medicine.