Moore's Law Meets Medical Innovation at Digital Health Summit

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  • 01/16/2012
I spent three days and two nights in Las Vegas tired, hot and hungry.   No,  I didn't lose all my money playing black jack.  I was walking from one part of the endless Las Vegas convention center to another and from one mammoth hotel/casino to the next at the Consumer Electronics Show.   There were 150,000 plus there for the event and what I know about Vegas is unlike anything you might have seen in The Hangover except that because of the crowds I might have gotten more sleep and more to east if I had been left on roof of the MGM Grand in a drugged stupor.    And the wait for a bathroom would not have been as long either.   Who goes to Vegas and loses 5 pounds?  You are reading his post right now.

In any event the main reason for being their was to participate in sessions of the excellent Digital Health Summit ( ) some which were hosted by Scientific American ( ), on the impact of the digitization of medical knowledge on health and medical innovation.   The key breakthrough announced there was the ability of Life Technologies to sequence a person's genome for under $1000 and in less than 24 hours.   And that's for starters.  If costs and processing time continue to drop by 50 percent a year it will be possible to do the whole job for under $250 and within hours in a couple of years.   It's the difference between taking filim for developing at CVS and using a digital camera.

Until now, the thought of people obtaining and storing clinical, genetic and imaging knowledge through their smartphone was just a idea.  But as Eric Topol told us, the convergence is months away, not years.  Eric's new book,  The Creative Destruction of Medicine  --  quite simply the best book on how medical technology will transform health -- used some of these  nextgen technologies during his talk.    He showed a hand-held, clip-on smartphone electrocardiogram (EKG) reader, made by Qualcomm-funded AliveCor.    Eric used the device to diagnose that a fellow airline passenger was having a heart attack.  The airplane made an emergency landing, allowing the man's life to be saved.   He also showed off a device from Sotera called Visi Wireless, which monitors glucose levels in an non-intrusive way, continuously, as well as tracking other characteristics (blood oxygen, etc.).  Topol joked that as soon as he ate one of the donuts served before his talk (at least someone got to eat) Visi had already shown the spike in his sugar levels, which he now watches because a scan of his genome shows he is at risk for Type 2 Diabetes.  

Think of the tricorder from Star Trek and you have an idea of where medicine is really going..

Such advances are being integrated into the design of products that consumers and doctors would actually find easy and enjoyable to use.    Specifically, the digitization of health knowledge -- moving from hardware to software and from the masses to the individual -- will make predicting and treating disease much more personal and faster.   It will not be inconceivable to be able to diagnose and begin treatment of  certain cancers in the same day and allow continuous montioring of progress all on the same device.  

The barriers to this revolution are cost, regulation and reimbursement.   But as Jason Goldberg (no relation), CEO of Ideal Life Technologies said: if everyone comes into the doctor's office or hospital with the latest information about what treatment they need and how providers performed, it will be nearly impossible not to respond.    I think the effort to regulate health care choices is pretty much dead...the future belongs to these tools and the ability they give us to crowd source new information and force change.    And as the gap between the potential for better health and government regulation widens, the demand for policy changes that lead to the democratization of medicine will grow.   Much like Blockbuster, brick and mortar bookstores and even desktop computers, the existing structures and interests that prop up 20th century medicine -- along with the regulations devised to sustain them -- will wither away.   Moore's Law -- the theory that the growth in computing power of semiconductors is exponential -- is now begining to have the same impact on health care as it did on other industries.     Good for consumers, bad for those seeking to centralize control of health care, great for going where no man has gone before.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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