Why should InformationWeek Healthcare readers care? Because Tuesday night Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health in San Diego and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, took a look inside the comedian's ear canal with the help of an otoscope smartphone accessory -- still a premarket product -- from a startup company called CellScope. "It's healing," Topol said, after showing the Comedy Central cameras a live image of Colbert's eardrum on a smartphone screen.
Though the segment featured a lot of laughs, Topol won over "The Colbert Report" studio audience and the fake pundit himself with some technical wizardry demonstrating that smartphones and tablets are unshackling healthcare from traditional, clinical settings.
"We have new tools to be able to understand each person at an individual, granular level we never could before," Topol said, explaining the premise behind his 2012 book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine.
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"Why do we want to creatively destroy medicine? Medicine is keeping us alive. Leave it alone," Colbert quipped.
Topol explained that he was talking about "radical innovation" in the practice of medicine.
When Topol mentioned smartphones, Colbert whipped out his iPhone and asked, "Well, I have a smartphone. Am I a doctor?"
Without missing a beat, Topol said, "That smartphone is going to be the conduit of data and information about your health, about your medical essence like you've never had before."
"Is Siri a doctor?" Colbert joked, before asking the Apple virtual digital assistant, "Siri, am I dying?" The phone answered, "I really can't say."
But some of the apps and gadgets Topol brought with him really could say, as the Scripps cardiologist showed the health IT community earlier this month when he was the keynote speaker at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in New Orleans.
Topol had Colbert try AliveECG, an electrocardiogram attachment for the iPhone from Oklahoma City-based startup AliveCor, showing the host's heart rhythm in real time. Then he demonstrated the ViSi monitor from Sotera Wireless, a company Topol is an investor in, to show heart rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other vital signs on a device not much bigger than a watch. "We can do an intensive care unit on the wrist," Topol explained. That's when the banter picked up.