Eric Topol: Patients Need To Demand, “Show Me My Data!”

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 3 2012 8:50 AM

Eric Topol: Patients Need To Demand, “Show Me My Data!”

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Clinic office assistant Joan Vest searches for a patient's mssplaced medical file at the Spanish Peaks Family Clinic on August 5, 2009 in Walsenburg, Colorado. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Eric Topol wants to digitize you. No, he doesn’t want to transform your body into a pixelated hologram or morph your visage into a virtual avatar. 

Topol, a cardiologist and the author of The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, which came out this week, wants to digitize you by collecting streams of your anatomical, physiological, and biological data and uploading them to your iPhone (or PC) for easy and constant accessibility.

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The gist of his book: Doctors could vastly improve medical treatments by tracking measurements, heartbeats and molecular make-ups. Physicians currently have the firepower—through innovations like gene sequencing and wireless biosensors to monitor heart rhythms and blood glucose—to tailor treatments to you. (Topol views genetic sequencing as an additional dimension of an individual’s digital profile—data that should be part of everyone’s health record).  

But the health care system is fractured and stuck in the past: Out of more than 3,000 American hospitals surveyed in 2009, only 1.5 percent maintained fully electronic health records and health information technology systems. Right now, there’s no easy way for a doctor, let alone a patient, to see a complete medical profile.

So his book is a call to action for patients. He writes, “It is time for the public outcry, ‘Show me the data!’ And to be more precise: ‘Show me my data!’ ”

The revolution is about advocating for individual treatments based on your distinct, biological profile. 

Regardless of your current health status, you should ask for copies of all the notes, charts, image scan tests, and lab tests from each office visit and hospitalization. If you can’t digitize them, keep them in a folder.  

“Today, your glucose may be normal, but in six months it may creep up,” Topol explains. Tracking the data allows you to see health problems unfold.

Like those spawned by too many X-ray scans: Topol says 2 percent to 3 percent of cancers in this country are related to overexposure to radiation from medical imaging. If you have to get an X-ray or scan, ask how much radiation it will expose you to. He’s got a handy chart in the book that highlights normal numbers.

“We’ve got to get the consumers to drive this thing,” Topol says, referring to the revolution. What are you waiting for? Perfect your Jerry Maguire impression and march into your physician’s office.  

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate editor at New America and the associate director of its Global Gender Parity Initiative.

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