Robin Cook and Eric Topol had an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today entitled “How Digital Medicine Will Soon Save Your Life.” They predict that digital medicine will arrive soon with “force of a hurricane. The promise of individualized “tailored” medicine’s advance with the prospect of cheap gene decoding, nanotechnology and smart phone’s playing the role of physician avatars, silently monitoring our body chemistry and organ functioning is certainly appealing and probably within the realm of near realization. They note the recent FDA approval of VISI, a device that monitors heart electricity, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and blood pressure without a cuff and transmits the data to a medical office. They predict that the advent of digital medicine will democratize medicine permitting patients to own or control their medical data which they can transmit over the web. They see this as a shift away from the “medical - industrial complex.”
The authors see problems and unanticipated problems related to privacy, misuse of information and patients being overwhelmed by the information available to them. They suggest that the FDA will have to play a major role to ameliorate those issues. This is somewhat funny. The reality is that if the FDA plays a major role in this futuristic model it is far more likely to be the problem than the solution. It still clings to the 19th Century approach to approval of medicines that work for the majority, but not all of the public and to obstruct the access to drugs that work for a minority of patients, with appropriate molecular structures, but not for the majority. To reach the great advances and lower costs that the author’s envision there will need to be a hurricane running through the FDA.