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Can Technology Replace Doctors?

More than ever before, devices put care into patients' hands. This M.D.'s opinion may surprise.

With the exceptions of pregnancy tests, thermometers, and some at-home blood tests, most medical exams are done in the doctor’s office—and have been since the beginning of medicine as we know it. “We have lived largely in a world of medical paternalism where ‘doctors know best’,” says cardiologist Eric Topol, M.D., author of the newly released book The Patient Will See You Now. “Very rarely did we have people generating their own data,” he adds.

That is, until now.

“We have remarkable new digital tools we never envisioned that are empowering individuals to generate their own medical data, own it, see the costs of their care, and summon a doctor at any time by teleconference or to a home,” he says. “It’s a whole new look at how medicine will go forward and it’s the biggest challenge the medical profession has ever faced—but it’s an exciting one.” The end result: democratization of medicine.

But electrocardiograms via smartphone, detecting an ear infection by way of an iPhone accessory, and having your eyes refracted through your cell’s camera aren’t advances of the far-off future. Much of this technology is here and now—with many more breakthroughs coming quickly, Topol says.

So what does a doctor want you to know as you start taking your health into your own hands? We asked Topol to explain.