Clinton, Topol preach the importance of evolution in healthcare

For all of their differences, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and cardiologist Eric Topol--the West Endowed Chair of Innovative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.--delivered a similar message in their respective keynote addresses this week at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference in New Orleans.

The status quo won't cut it in healthcare anymore.

Clinton, who spoke on Wednesday, talked about the great potential for IT to fix healthcare, not only on a clinical level, but at a foundational level, as well.

"Eventually, almost every major system gets long in the tooth," he said. "We have all these horse-and-buggy systems and people hanging onto a lack of transparency … but there's nothing we can't fix. The whole promise of IT is that we can manage data in ways that we never could before … so that we don't have unexamined lives of unexamined healthcare systems."

Clinton also talked about the promise of genomics in healthcare, harkening back to efforts undertaken during his time in the White House. "I spent $3 billion of your taxpayer dollars to do that thing," he said. It won't be long, he said, before people can undergo routine physical examinations "just by walking into a canister."

Topol, who spoke on Tuesday, kicked off his keynote by talking about how far technology has come in a short period of time--except when it comes to healthcare delivery.

"How quickly we forget, there wasn't even a YouTube video until 2005," he said. "The digital revolution is irreversibly transferring our world … except in medicine, so far."

Topol, who also spoke to FierceHealthIT for an exclusive interview prior to HIMSS, added that the nation is in the midst of the third industrial revolution, saying that we're just getting started with the "great inflection" of medicine right now.

"Now we have the ability to digitize human beings … homo digitus … that's what's so exciting," he said.

He warned, though, that medicine can't continue to be practiced at a population level, using the example of the annual physical as what's wrong with healthcare today.

"We do everything the same and don't recognize that each person is an individual," Topol said. "We can get incredibly precise for the future of medicine. Wearable sensors are a way to get started with this … something as simple as a watchband."