[The mHealth Summit is the largest annual gathering dedicated to mHealth in the world and convenes a global group of researchers, health professionals & industry. As a media partner for the Summit, iMedicalApps will be presenting an exclusive series of interviews with keynote and prominent speakers titled "mHealth leaders speak to iMedicalApps" between now and the December meeting.]
It is hard to easily comprehend the depth and breadth of Dr. Topol’s career. He has been a major figure in cardiology, genomics and wireless health while also assuming leadership positions in landmark institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Scripps Institute in La Jolla.
As chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, he led the program to become number one for heart care. He was lead investigator on numerous national & worldwide cardiovascular clinical trials and started a medical school at the Clinic. He was also among the first physicians nationwide to call attention to the potential cardiac dangers of Vioxx. His very public criticism of Merck and the FDA brought to light the intimate but not always visible connections between the pharmaceutical industry and academic medicine.
Later he moved to San Diego, where he currently serves as director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, Chief Academic Officer for Scripps Health and Professor of Translational Genomics. He has been a leading proponent of wireless medicine for more than a decade. He co-founded the West Wireless Health Institute with Gary and Mary West who contributed the initial $45m gift to start the Institute and have since committed an additional $100m to found a not-for-profit venture fund for wireless health companies. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Institute which is dedicated to “innovating, validating, and advocating for the use of technologies including wireless medical devices to transform medicine.” Be sure to check out our recent interview of WWHI chief executive Don Casey.
Dr. Topol is delivering the opening keynote for the mHealth Summit on December 5. His new book “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” is also making its debut at the Summit as an e-book, available to meeting attendees. Read below to hear his thoughts on the mHealth Summit and wireless platforms’ potential to improve health & transform the practice of medicine.
Why are you participating in the mHealth Summit?
I am excited to be participating in the mHealth Summit because this is a gathering of the really interested people in this space from all over the world, and it is the one that is most exciting in making a vast difference in the future of medicine.
Could you please share a few thoughts on the potential of mHealth to improve health?
The story here is that a remarkable digital intrastructure has been built and yet the medical world is in a separate orbit, a cocoon of sorts. This is the beginning of a coalescence of a these two fields, where medicine can leverage this fantastic digitial infrastructure. Not just wireless but the idea that you can digitize the whole human being. We’re used to digitizing books and movies but now we can digitize people with wireless sensors, advanced medical imaging, even genomic sequencing. mHealth is a way to take this forward, because now we’re talking about a mobile platform, a way of getting that data on any individual, to individualize their care, to allow prevention of significant illnesses. This is a unique opportunity, the most exciting time in medicine ever.
There are a lot of mobile meetings out there, what makes the mHealth Summit special ?
Well, I think this is the meeting. The term “summit” is used pretty liberally but this one is the real deal. It brings together people from all over the world who are interested in fostering global health through mHealth, this is an unparalleled gathering of people and exchange of ideas.
What do you hope to get out of the mHealth Summit ?
To me, it is a great opportunity to meet so many people in this mHealth community, the thought leaders, and to try to help catalyze going forward. It is exciting for me because I have a book coming out called “The Creative Destruction of Medicine”, about how the digital revolution will create better health care. This book will be available at the mHealth Summit electronically, exclusively for the meeting. In my address, I can only cover so much but this book gets into all the nitty gritty. This is such an extraordinary time in medicine. My hope is that I can help catalyze this movement which is based not in the physician community but rather in the consumer, in the public. And it is not just United States, but rather global.
In your TED talk you said that in the last two years we have learned more about disease than in all the previous eras, what did you mean by that ?
Since 2007, due to the acceleration of knowledge of our genomic underpinning – the root causes of disease – we have advanced our knowledge so exponentially that it transcends all of the history of medicine. Now that we can sequence a human being wholly, every one of the 6 billion base pairs, we can get full disclosure on each individual. That includes the prevention of diseases that might otherwise occur in that person but also what drugs might be useful, and those that would induce a serious side effect.
And all this kind of information can be stored on someone’s smart phone. There are now prototypes of devices that look like a smartphone but that are actually capable of genetic sequencing. A handheld device will be able to sequence portions of the genome, such as a possible cancer mutation or to see if a bacteria is resistant to certain antibiotics. In the next few years, using sequencing chips, these devices will be capable of sequencing a whole genome. Really a remarkable convergence between genomics and mobile technologies.
Can mobile technologies help less wealthy countries leapfrog some of their health challenges ?
Absolutely. As a cardiologist, I can look at the cardiac rhytm of anyone in the world. I can tell them if they are in atrial fibrillation, another arrhythmia or that they don’t have an arrhythmia. And that’s just the beginning. Next year, we’ll be able to look at all their vital signs. The fact is that we have leveled the playing field for practicing medicine. We can communicate through our smartphones, these amazing mini computers, to render diagnosis and care. That extends to making the diagnosis of infectious diseases, through add-ons to the smart phone, there is limitless potential here.
You have the opportunity for any patient in the world to connect with an expert to get guidance. That is something we never had before because we could not transmit that data. We just didn’t have the data. We couldn’t capture it, much less transmit and share it. For example using the V-scan, a high resolution ultrasound device, somebody can do an ultrasound in India and put it on their phone so I can look at it. I can see every structure of that person’s heart, abdomen or fetal structures. All this is done in real time.