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Surprising Science

Is the Digital Revolution Bad for Medicine?

The digital age is transforming medicine, making more data available to more people. The risk is that too much information can result in over-correcting health problems which don't exist in the first place.

What’s the Latest Development?

The digital revolution is making more medical data available to more people but does that necessarily benefit patients? No, says cardiologist Eric Topol. He tells the story of a patient who received an at-home CT scan as a gift on Valentine’s Day. The patient appeared to be in good health, exhibiting no obvious symptoms of poor health. But the CT scan showed a high calcium score and after a coronary angiogram, his doctor recommended inserting five stents to avoid complications from arterial blockage. Four months later, he was in much worse health.

What’s the Big Idea?

Anxious, depressed, heavily medicated and unable to sustain an erection, the patient seemed in markedly worse health after the medical industry had its way with him. Topol gives a stark assessment of access to new digital technology: “Think predator and prey: the physicians and hospital advertise, leading to a high volume of heart scans, billed directly to the patients at some $500 each.” And access to information is only set to grow. Will the medical industry prove agile enough to prioritize patient care over new (income generating) technology?

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