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The Future Demise of Hospitals and Other Revolutionary Predictions

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Dr Eric Topol

Eric Topol, MD

Strictly speaking, Dr. Eric Topol is not a marketing person, but—in addition to being an eminent American cardiologist—we have to regard him as a futurist. His view of what’s ahead in medicine and healthcare delivery will impact how doctors, hospital administrators and communications professionals will be doing their job in the near future.

Beyond his highly respected medical credentials, Dr. Topol is an author who has documented the digital revolution in medicine. His book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, has our “required reading” recommendation for both marketing executives and physician providers (and patients, too).

Anyone (most of us) deeply grounded in the ways and means of “traditional” medical science is likely to find the book to be a radical eye-opener about what’s within reach in medical care, “but only if we consumers demand it.” Here are a few ideas from this carefully annotated book.

The convergence of science, the Internet, empowered patients, and other dynamics are driving revolutionary ideas. “Yet many of these digital medical innovations lie unused because of the medical community’s profound resistance to change.”

Perhaps with communications specialists in mind, Dr. Topol observes, "[C]onsumers are increasingly accessing health and medical information and progressively getting empowered. Rather than ‘dumbed-down’ versions [of medical information] common in the past, we are seeing increasing respect for the consumer’s ability to understand the principal results and implications.

“That trend will surely continue, as the convergence of medical information proceeds, and the lines become blurred between the medical community, patient online communities, and the broad base of consumers.”

Doctors, email and social networking…

Several studies have pointed to higher levels of efficiency and productivity for doctors who leverage digital tools such as secure patient-physician email. Reducing face-to-face patient visits, using email, ranges from 26 to 50 or 60 percent. “But in spite of these studies, the use of email by physicians is remarkably low.”

With regard to online communities, the adoption of social media in medicine may be changing. “The Mayo Clinic announced a Center for Social Media and pointed out that they have over 60,000 followers on Twitter and 20,000 connections on Facebook.” Dr. Topol writes about various other social media platforms, and observes: “Social media networking does not appear to have relevance for direct patient interactions—certainly not on non-secure, public platforms, and perhaps not at all. But it is important for physicians to recognize the enormous popularity of these networks with their patients.”

The Steady Demise of Hospitals and Clinics…

“Radical transformation involves an overhaul of the infrastructure of conventional medicine,” Dr. Topol predicts. “The emblematic places to start with are the icon facilities of medicine—hospitals and doctors’ offices. I am not advocating DIY medicine; there will always be a critical need for the doctor-patient relationship. Nevertheless, its context will change.

“The need for hospitals in the future will be substantially reduced and restricted to the care of the most acutely ill patients who require intensive care and monitoring.” And, “In the years ahead I expect some 50 to 70 percent of office visits to become redundant, replaced by remote monitoring, digital health records, and virtual house calls.”

We have only enough space in this article for a tiny sampling from Dr. Topol’s timely book, but we hope it captures your interest. When technology and consumerism collide, The Creative Destruction of Medicine is an important reading requirement, and a prescription for doctors, patients and healthcare marketing executives. Tomorrow will be nothing like yesterday.

Eric J. Topol, MD is the director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and co-founder and vice-chairman of the West Wireless Health Institute in La Jolla, California. He is a practicing cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic and a professor of genomics at The Scripps Research Institute. He is one of the top ten most cited researchers in medicine, and has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

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