MedCrunch Interview With Eric Topol MD – The Cardiologist Who Wants to Digitize You and Your Patients.by Franz Wiesbauer on Mar 2, 2012 • 8:18 am
For those of you, who prefer to read the transcript of the interview……enjoy!
Franz Wiesbauer: So, hi everybody, its Franz and today I have a very, very special guest for you. I have the great honor to welcome Dr. Eric Topol. Hello Eric. Thanks for taking your time to be here with us.
Eric Topol: Hello Franz, great to join you.
Franz Wiesbauer: Eric actually has a very, very impressive background. I researched a little bit on you and it’s quite amazing what you have accomplished. I have to read this because I can’t memorize all your accomplishments, this is just a little bit that I got from the internet, you are currently the Chief Academic Officer of Scripps Health, and you were promoted to Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine at The Cleveland Clinic at the age of 36, which is really, really impressive, you are the co-founder of The Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine, Director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, Senior Consultant of the Division of Cardiology of Scripps Clinic, Professor of Translational Genomics The Scripps research Institute, and some very, very interesting things that I also read on Wikipedia about you, you were actually elected by GQ Magazine to be one of twelve “Rock Stars” of science and you were actually named “Doctor of the Decade” by The Institute of Scientific Information for being one of the ten most cited scientists. This is amazing! We have a lot of very young doctors, readers, and medical students and I think they would really love to walk your way. You’ve also written a couple of books, two of which have really influenced myself personally, The Manual of Cardiovascular Medicine, this was my bible during my training in cardiology and I really loved it and your second book The Creative Deconstruction of Medicine also a very good book and maybe you want to tell our readers and our viewers a little bit about the book.
Eric Topol: Sure. Well, it’s actually called The Creative Destruction of Medicine and that’s of course from Schumpeter from Austria and it’s basically from the fact that we can digitize human beings now for the first time and when we can do that it creates opportunities that are unparalleled to reboot the future of medicine and that, of course, is being able to track each person through biosensors which are wearable sensors, some data will be more imbedded sensors, it includes DNA sequencing and basically all of the OMIX to understand the biology, what makes each person an individual biologically, and then of course, anatomically through imaging like for example the high resolution ultrasound. When you add that on top of health information technologies and information systems, electronic personalized health records, this is era of medicine I call a Kairos, a supreme moment for the future of medicine.
Franz Wiesbauer: That’s actually a topic that our readers really love. Most of them are really tech savvy. So from what I understand, what you’re doing at Scripps now has a lot to do with what you’re writing in your book, right?
Eric Topol: Right. So, on the one hand you know, we do a lot of genotyping for drug interactions and for cancer to match up the tumor by the mutations with the drugs that would direct… specifically to the mutations that are the root cause of the cancer. We also are doing a lot of wireless sensor work and so, you know we did one of the early validation studies of the V-scan. We’re also testing I-rhythm now which is this, I actually have one on me right now which is a patch you can wear for two weeks to get every heart beat archived what rhythm you have, I use it now on patients, and then all these different sensors not just for things like heart rhythm but also glucose, minute to minute on your phone and things like that. So, it’s a really exciting time and I’ve been a student of medicine for almost three decades now and I’ve never seen anything like this. This is really phenomenal.
Franz Wiesbauer: So, I would like to do a little hopefully fun exercise here I would like to know what is your USB at your institute so, kind of like your elevator pitch, imagine you were in an elevator together with Bill Gates and imagine that he wouldn’t know who you are and what you are doing and let’s imagine he wouldn’t fund you, I don’t know if he does, like, you have one minute with him and you wanted to persuade him to front you but you just had I don’t know 20 flats in which to persuade him, what would you tell him?
Eric Topol: Well, I’d say look how the wireless medical devices and the digital infrastructure changed our world in recent years like nothing ever before and now because we can digitize human beings, we can do the same thing for medicine and radically improve and reboot the future of health care.
Franz Wiesbauer: What questions could he ask?
Eric Topol: Well, I don’t think anybody could question how things like smart phones, iPods, e-readers, and tablets have changed our daily lives in every respect and not just the mundane things but even how we behave and think and how we have become homo distractous because we are surgically attached to all these devices but you add social networking and supercomputing, cloud computing, you’ve got an infrastructure that is just waiting to be harnessed by healthcare. It’s free, it’s already set up. Now we have these new tools that set up new rules in medicine and they include genomics and wireless sensors and imaging so this is just ready to go. The problem has been, is the medical community, our community that we live in Franz, is totally resistant to change. This is really a problem. We have to override that, and that’s how we can, we can democratize medicine because each individual will have access, should have access to all their data.
Franz Wiesbauer: Do you really think that it’s an actual democratization I mean thinking of the fact that it can still be complicated to use those devices, don’t you think that these devices and the technology will kind of select the more intelligent folks, the more intelligent patients and when we’re talking about this new type of medicine, are we talking about a type of medicine that’s only accessible to the smartest or the richest? What do you think?
Eric Topol: Well, I mean there is an issue there. We have a digital divide so we’re going to have a digital medical divide too unfortunately and I write about that in the book too. I think this is an issue which we have to deal with but if we can come up with better ways to prevent diseases in the future then it should hopefully effect all individuals and also one of the most important things you know, just last week, this min i-in device which is a USB sized device and it can sequence genomes in minutes. It can be done anywhere in the world just like all these sensors, anywhere in the world, in the developing world, just as it can be in the developed world. So, we see a flat Earth story here. This is really something that is applicable across the board to all people and so there is of course, a limitation of this because there is a lack of access, for example just broad band access, no less medical access so that’s something that just has to be worked on over time. It’s a key issue to promote health care worldwide.
Franz Wiesbauer: You mentioned social media, and you’re active on Twitter, as you know, so many physicians as you also mentioned, when you talk to them about Twitter, they roll their eyes and they don’t really know what’s going on and they don’t want to know actually, a lot of them, and so…
Eric Topol: I understand that, I thought the same thing, I thought it was just about Lady Ga Ga or when Aston Kutcher would go to the bathroom then I realized when I got on it, because I was prompted by colleagues that this was the essence of getting all the great information before anyone else. It’s extraordinary. It’s the first site I go to in the morning to see what’s going on in the world because it’s happening there, basically what you have is an army that’s searched the web for you to find what’s exciting and interesting and of course it’s very easy to use. I’m a big Twitter fan. I recommend it all the time to people and you know what, that’s another thing that demonstrates the resistance of physicians because as you say, there aren’t so many physicians who are using Twitter but they are missing out if they’d just get on it and start to follow their interests, it doesn’t even have to be medical it could be what their hobbies are. I think they would find it eye opening and enjoyable.
Franz Wiesbauer: Absolutely. How are you using Twitter, do you use Twitter clients, do you use it on the web? When do you use it? Do you always have it open?
Eric Topol: I don’t always have it open but I usually use it like first thing in the morning and a couple of times during the day or evening I go back to it and see what I’ve been missing throughout the day. I don’t have the time to be on it too much during the day but what I do find is by going on it two or three times a day I find things that I otherwise would not. I don’t have time to go through a hundred web sites and this is where I can find the distillate, the juice, what’s really important in the area that I’m interested in which is this digital medicine world and of course I’m interested in which is this digital medicine world and I’m interested of course in the power of social networking for health care and I’m interested in things of course in genomics. So, for example, last week the surprise announcement of this amazing nanopore sequencing from Oxford, I mean no one knew it was coming and then you know because I was looking at Twitter it was a meeting in Florida, a big sequencing meeting, I said “Wow, this is big.” But you know I might not have heard about that until a day or two later if it hadn’t been for Twitter and that’s the beauty of it.
Franz Wiesbauer: Do you follow Hashtags, or just people?
Eric Topol: I follow people. I don’t usually look at the Hashtags although I know that’s another good way to catch up. I’ve only been on it, I guess it’s been growing over a couple of years but I’ve learned more recently that that’s a good way to if you go to for example, digital health or medicine, that’s another way to find the people to follow which is another big important thing but mainly I’ve been tracking via people.
Franz Wiesbauer: Do you have any people to follow that you would recommend that people follow? Who are some of the best resources of information for you on Twitter?
Eric Topol: Oh gosh, I mean there are so many of them I don’t know how to single them out I mean one of the guys who I think is really impressive as a journalist at Forbes, Matt Herper, he really seems to be on top of everything that’s happening on topics like genomics so I think that’s a really good one, For the wireless, there’s a guy name Paul Sonnier who lives in San Diego and who is exceptional. He seems to track everything. There’s several people, there’s some really great people with remarkable insight so I follow a couple of hundred people and I can’t say enough things about what they…in order for me to follow them, I’ve got to make sure that they are really providing great information.
Franz Wiesbauer: In your book, you talk a lot about how technology is going to change healthcare and the health of the patient but I would be interested in your thoughts about how this whole development is going to change healthcare for the physicians? How do you think the practice of medicine is going to change? Do you think there’s going to be a new specialty like with the discovery of x-rays for medicine, there was radiology, is there going to be a specialty of wireless-ology or something?
Eric Topol: Well, we do have wireless medicine fellows here, you know scholars and we also have genomic medicine so we have some people that are spending two years with us training special training, we’ve even had a Fellow from Ireland that’s funded from the Irish government here so I think that’s a sign of the times but I don’t think we need so many people to be dedicated as wireless medicine scholars but that has to be integrated into every physician’s practice because if we’re not used to dealing with sensor data, whether you’re primary care taking care of diabetes or if you’re a cardiologist taking of heart failure and arrhythmia patients, this is going to become routine and so is genomic sequencing of most individuals. So you’ve got to get with this. I don’t think it’s a niche type specialty thing, this is actually going to be part of everyday practice for all physicians but we have to have our receptors open.
Franz Wiesbauer: So, coming to my last question which is very important med crunch is centered around the physician’s life, it’s about physician happiness, success, technology, start-ups, whatever, and so what people are really interested in is how to become successful and happy in their careers and since you are so successful, could you give our readers some advice on what you think are important aspects, like important skills, important actions, important environments to be successful in medicine?
Eric Topol: Well, you’re very kind, Franz. I mean, I put my kind of “motto” in the book about “think big and act bigger” and so, just let you’re imagination run wild and that’s what I’ve been doing for years is that, you know, what can we do that’s transforming and now this is why I say that this is the most exciting time for medicine, it’s so easy to get excited and inspired by it because you can see the way it’s going to change and how extraordinary it’s going to be. I just wish I could go back to medical school now because this is such a phenomenal time going forward. So now, I think that if you just let that creativity and imagination be limitless, that’s the key.
Franz Wiesbauer: Great! Thanks very much, Eric.
Eric Topol: Thank you, Franz.