Eric Topol: Hiding behind the health reform debate is the need for cost-cutting 'smart medicine'

stethoscope on money
Health insurance reform is important, but solving the cost-containment crisis requires new technology. (Getty/Maudib)

Regardless of where lawmakers land in the contentious debate over healthcare reform, the need to integrate new technology to improve medical diagnosis and reduce wasteful spending isn’t going away anytime soon.

While the discussion over health coverage is important, real cost containment and improved outcomes rely on the industry’s ability to practice “smart medicine,” Eric Topol, M.D., director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and a professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.

RELATED: Republicans' ACA repeal effort on uncertain ground as Congress returns from recess

Topol has been a long-standing proponent of digital health advancements. Although he has cautioned against “gimmicky” technology in the past, at the annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) in June, he outlined some of the most promising cost-cutting tools that could change the way physicians practice medicine.  

Topol touched on a wide array of cutting-edge technologies—from telemedicine, to AI, to wearables and mobile apps—that can help wrangle the rising costs of healthcare. For example, incorporating genetic data can limit the number of unnecessary expensive cancer tests and biopsies that offer frequently unreliable results. Telemedicine could eliminate unnecessary wait times and mobile technology offers a new stream of patient-generated data to drive precision medicine so physicians can provide personalized care that reduces overall healthcare costs. 

RELATED: Technologies, genomics are pushing adoption of personalized medicine

But Topol also laments the slow-moving nature of the medical industry and its stubborn resistance to change. Disruption in the form of regulatory changes often exacerbates that tentativeness.

"More could certainly be done to move us toward better health outcomes at lower costs," he wrote. "Perhaps some enterprising member of Congress will propose a Frugal Health Care Innovation Act, providing government incentives for technology, research and implementation. Such public support for electric cars has rapidly changed the face of the whole auto industry. American medicine today is no less antiquated than the Detroit of a generation ago, and it needs to find its way into the present century."