Topol: Remote monitoring will save $20+ billion

By Brian Dolan
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Topol Presentation"The economy has hit bottom," Scripps Health's Dr. Eric Topol declared during his keynote at the CTIA Wireless event in Las Vegas this week. "But at the same time there has never been more wireless innovation in the medical community."

Topol spent much of his twenty five minutes onstage describing and demonstrating examples of that innovation. 

"As a cardiologist I never thought I would be seeing from a smart bandaid on my phone a continually streaming electrocardiagram," Topol said. "I never thought this would be possible, but, of course, it is ready now."

Topol then showed a real-time wireless bandaid for monitoring electrocardiograms that he said the FDA approved last month. The product was developed by Corventis.

"Let me do a demo of this, [the smart bandaid] is right on me now. Let's take a look: Here's my electrocardiogram. I noticed my heart rate went up a bit since this morning... That's interesting."  

Topol said that the ability to remotely monitor someone who has had heart failure with a solution like this has extraordinary potential. He also said that remote monitoring for heart failure patients alone is projected to create savings of $10 billion per year. If you add diabetes and chronic congestive pulmonary disease wireless remote monitoring to that figure, we could save another $10 billion a year by virtue of remote wireless monitoring, Topol said.

Topol also described a solution from GE Healthcare for wireless monitoring of the vital signs of premature babies: "This is really quite striking, because now we can monitor... premies without any contact of the skin--since it's so delicate." It was also nice of Dr. Topol to include a screenshot (pictured) of mobihealthnews.com's coverage of the GE Healthcare wireless sensors for premies article we wrote a few weeks back.

Prior to his keynote presentation at the show, Topol gave a few video interviews with the event's organizers. Here are some quick notes from those:

Biggest challenge is changing behavior 

Topol explained that the big challenge for wireless medicine was convincing the medical community that it needs to change the way it delivers care and that wireless health technology will be key to making that change. Research on the efficacy of wireless health services is still needed to make the argument, he said.

"We are so grateful to Gary and Mary West because that philanthropic investment that they made, which is enormous, [will help us] to gather the evidence to validate these new technologies using wireless and compare them to the old way of doing medicine and change medical practice," Topol told CTIA. "Medical practice, reimbursement, healthcare policy... getting regulatory approval, all of those things are not going to change unless we have the hard data. You can have all this great technology like wireless sensors and other widgets and gadgets, but you have to prove, unequivocally, that it is a better way. [You have to prove that] it's more cost-effective... saves lives... [and prevents] bad outcomes... That's when we'll change medicine."

Opportunity for remote monitoring

"Remote monitoring for seniors is one of the biggest applications today," Topol told CTIA. "We can track seniors, who would otherwise have to live in a nursing center or assisted living facility. They want to be in their own home, so we have to make sure they don't fall... [Wireless sensors can be used for] tracking their vital signs and tracking their activity. We are now starting to see these smart homes for the elderly that are potentially going to be smart homes for a dominant part of the population."

Emergency medical services and wireless-enabled devices for paramedics

Topol said it typically takes about 30 to 40 minutes for paramedics to enter a home and get a patient to the hospital: "That delay is important for trauma, heart attacks and a lot of different diagnoses," Topol said. "And a lot of time at the hospital you have to get teams ready--and those teams may be coming from their homes in the middle of the night. Or you have to open up an operating room."

Topol argued that wireless sensors at home or even better wireless services and device in ambulances could help shorten the time it takes a patient to get treatment in an emergency situation. The readiness of knowing exactly what is going on either in the home or during the first moments a patient gets into an ambulance gives physicians precious time.

"If you save 20 or 30 minutes... that could save a life," Topol said. 

Smart pills and individualized medicine

Topol told CTIA that waiting around for medication to kick in when suffering from migraines could be mostly a thing of the past once pills with embedded wireless technology can be activated when the first hints of a migraine appear.

This technology "gets to the blood level immediately so you don't have to wait hours," Topol said. "The horse is already out of the barn." 

Is this a vision of the future or happening now?

"I have never seen anything [like wireless medicine] that has quite had this potential," Topol said. "I work a lot with genomics, but that's a much longer story... [Wireless medicine] is going to happen; It's already happening; It's past that tipping point. I've never seen anything with this extraordinary potential to change the healthcare world. That's what's gotten me quite excited."

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