X-Ray Selfies and Uber-Docs: A Glimpse of Medicine’s (Near) Future

STANFORD, CA — Dr. Eric Topol wants patients to own their own health data.

The tech-loving cardiologist-turned-genomics professor from the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, CA has been popping up a lot lately, in op-eds and at health technology conferences.

TopolMedXIn his keynote address to the fifth annual Stanford Medicine X conference (or “MedX”), his message remained clear: technology can and should radically change how medicine is practiced, and medical records shall be sequestered no more.

Dr. Topol, author of the book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, wasn’t just talking about CBC results and MRI reports.

“You have to digitize humans before you can democratize medicine,” he says, envisioning a future in which new kinds of health information–gleaned from things like whole genome DNA sequencing and “X-ray selfie” apps—go right into the hands of patients, who can then harness that information to make better medical decisions.

X-ray selfies may sound far-fetched, but they’re not. Technologies already exist to bring x-ray capabilities to phones, including a “terahertz chip” developed by Caltech researchers that promises to deliver a safer alternative to conventional x-rays.

Topol presented a complex slide featuring his view of “omics”; the layers of information about a patient that would be computerized and combined to yield diagnostics, treatment protocols, and prevention strategies.

For example, advanced computing could process information from the gut microbiome and interpolate it with the genome, as well as the exposome (for example, toxic exposures which the patient had encountered), and use it all to come up with the most likely diagnosis.

“Give us our data!” was a common refrain in the September 2015 conference. It’s one that’s definitely echoing in the nation’s halls of power these days.

Claudia Williams, the senior advisor for Health Innovation and Technology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was on hand to discuss President Obama’s Precision Medicine initiative.

Williams supported participatory medicine, encouraged the inclusion of patients in decision-making about clinical trials, and urged that data be used to create real solutions in health care. She also supported the concept of patients owning their health data and having the option to donate that data for research studies.

Ultimately, she expressed hope that the Precision Medicine Initiative would not only get patients excited about volunteering their data for research studies, but that medical professionals would actively use genomics in clinical practice in the coming years.

Started by Stanford anesthesiologist Larry Chu, MD, the Medicine X conference invites tech- and social media-savvy patients onstage along with medical luminaries. The patients, called “ePatients”, are often sponsored by the conference, and they’re there to educate health care practitioners, trainees, and technologists with a patient’s view of medical care in the 21st century.

Many health professionals follow Medicine X on Twitter, and it is one of the most heavily tweeted of all medical meetings.

Every year at MedX, a number of companies debut or discuss their wares.

Among them this year were Flow Health and Gliimpse, two web-based apps that collect lab results and wearable tracker data and display it all in readable formats—even to the point of lab results being “normalized” from different hospital sources at different time points.

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