COMMENTARY

Topol on Using Smartphones for Complex Diagnostic Challenges

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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'm trying to zoom in on the critical aspects of how the digital world will create better healthcare. Smartphones and supercomputers -- where are we going with that? Let me go through some background.

Recently I was on attending rounds with medical residents and students, and while I'm asking them questions, they're going to their prosthetic brain -- their smartphone -- to look for the answers. It was interesting, so I asked where they were going. To Google. They were going to Google to get medical information. Is that the best way to get medical information?

There are some really interesting trends that are going on right now. As you may know, IBM created the supercomputer Watson. And there was that historic Jeopardy! competition that occurred in January 2011 between the human Jeopardy! champions and Watson, with -- of course -- Watson prevailing.

Watson can process [200] million pages of content in less than 3 seconds. I'm not sure that we have any physicians who could approach that type of information processing, but what we do want is to have that connectivity with a supercomputer when we have complex diagnostic issues, for example, or when we're looking for critical information.

Now, the trend that's really fascinating to watch is WellPoint, one of the largest health insurers in this country, being connected with Watson, and then Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York being connected with Watson for processing cancer genomic data. Most recently was the IBM announcement that Watson will be available through the cloud via your smartphone.

Can you envision the day when, instead of looking at simple searches on Medscape or Google or other sources, you could process so much information in such a short time through a smartphone for complex diagnostic challenges, or even treatments from the data? This is an exciting link between smartphones and supercomputers to look forward to in the years ahead. Thanks for joining me for this segment. Stay tuned for more from The Creative Destruction of Medicine.

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