As another example of the coming democratization of medicine, Topol cited Theranos. It has technology that can perform tests that labs like Labcorp or Quest perform, but using only "a droplet of blood" at a fraction of the current cost. Walgreens is already starting to install the technology at some of its stores.
Recently-released Medicare data showed that Medicare spent $5 billion in 2012 on labs. "That is going to go through a major shakeup," he said. And Theranos is actually intermediatetechnology. In a few short years, it will be possible to perform these lab tests with—you guessed it—the smartphone.
Enter Genetic Sequencing
Someone in the audience suggested that common labs could be done this way, but not more complex tests. Topol conceded the point, but suggested, as he has in the past, that medical centers go upscale, particularly into genomic testing, as a hedge against having today's lab testing revenue eroded by Theranos and all that follow it.
"Health systems have not gotten into sequencing, but they should, because it will differentiate, and it's going to be paid for very soon, or is, in many circumstances, by insurance," Topol said.
Another example: With only 13 out of 1,000 patients benefitting from statins, Topol says genetic screening can make a huge difference in reducing side effects and the cost of drugs by not treating patients who cannot benefit from statins.