INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. — Are we witnessing the demise of the stethoscope? Eric Topol, M.D., believes so, at least metaphorically. Well, no, in reality actually.


Topol, director of Scripps Health's Translational Science Institute and author of the highly compelling book The Creative Destruction of Medicine, explained how tremendous advances in technology — largely in the consumer market — are radically changing health care. Combine that with our growing understanding of the human genome, and care delivery may never be the same, Topol said during his keynote presentation on day two of the CHIME Fall Forum.

Topol started his lecture explaining that his book was meant to shed light on the need for "radical innovation" in health care. A large part of that innovation is being driven by consumer-oriented products. Just think, he said, how far we've come in the nine short years since Apple introduced the first iPod. "Think about that disruption," he said.

And this — Facebook recently reached 1 billion registrants worldwide. Social networking has led to an explosion in online health communities, he noted, where patients freely share information and experiences, sometimes even discussing things that they haven't told their doctor.

But Topol was just getting warmed up with these tidbits. He really had us eating out of the palm of his hand as he showed off devices that easily attach to your smartphone:

He talked about apps which allow people to take a picture of a skin lesion and get an instant analysis. And, he hooked up an ultrasound device to his iPhone, unbuttoned his shirt and showed off a high-quality image of his heart. He said that he uses the device regularly with his own patients. Oh, and he was wearing a smartphone on his wrist that capture and displayed his vital signs.

All of this leads to a world where patients are not only more empowered, but where they can be more connected to providers, since these devices can send information back to caregivers through the cloud. They also create an environment where patients can bypass traditional health care services for what was heretofore the domain of clinics and hospitals. Talk about disruption.

Topol then spent some time explaining our growing understanding of the human genome. This is allowing for more targeted and personalized care. Eventually, it could lead to a more predictive approach to care — knowing in advance if someone is predisposed to get an illness.

So, it's been a good couple of days here in the California desert. As I pointed out yesterday, we heard a lot about how IT execs are preparing their organizations to transition to a risk-based, value-based delivery system. Topol explored the evolution of technology and personalized medicine and in between, there was plenty of dialogue around meaningful use and other critical IT issues, some of which we will explore both here and in the magazine in future issues.

But the highlight for me — really for most everyone here — was the two seconds we got to rub shoulders with greatness — the dynamic duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. The gold medal Olympians held a photo op during Wednesday night's reception. I'll tell you what, those gold medals are heavier than you'd think.