Cardiologist Eric Topol Outlines Goals for San Diego’s West Wireless Healthcare Institute

5/20/09Follow @bvbigelow

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an extraordinary rate across virtually all medical disciplines,” Topol said. At the same time, however, not many of these technological advances have gotten to the point of actually changing medicine, although Topol contends we are on the cusp of revolutionary change.

One reason is that the prime directive in healthcare today is to reduce costs. So any revolutionary technology must also come with revolutionary cost-effectiveness. “We know in this country that 26 percent of the people who are admitted to a hospital for heart failure are readmitted within one month,” Topol said. “So the cost to our health system is extraordinary.” As a result, Topol said, one of the fundamental tenets of using advanced wireless technologies in healthcare is to limit the number of people who have to be hospitalized.

Topol said all of these factors have come together in the formation of an institute that could combine San Diego’s prowess in wireless innovation with its expertise in the life sciences. The new West Wireless Health Institute is one of the first medical research organizations created to help develop innovative wireless technologies that advance healthcare. When the formation of the San Diego institute was announced March 30 (with a $45 million commitment from the Gary and Mary West Foundation), Topol was named as the institute’s chief medical officer.

For Topol, the institute was formed at an opportune moment to guide the direction of technology innovation and to assist the emerging wireless healthcare industry in a variety of ways. To accomplish both goals, Topol says the institute must address a number of challenges:

—Validation: Getting healthcare providers to adopt innovative wireless technologies requires not merely showing, for example, that a wireless device can accurately and continuously measure blood pressure, Topol said. It requires providing “overwhelming evidence” that using such technology enables patients to avoid strokes and heart attacks.

—Regulatory Approval: Under Topol’s leadership, the institute is amassing the expertise needed to conduct clinical trials that companies developing new wireless technologies need to win approval from the FDA and other regulators. In most cases, Topol said the companies would pay the institute to design and supervise the clinical trials. But it might also be possible to get NIH funding for “comparative effectiveness” studies, or to tap the institute itself for available funding.

—Cost Effectiveness: In addition to developing clinical studies, Topol said the institute plans to help gather evidence to show that healthcare providers can save money by adopting a particular technology.

—Health Policy: Topol said he also expects the institute to play a role in healthcare policy by helping to influence the medical community to adopt new wireless technologies.

“All those things we hope to accomplish via the West Institute,” Topol said. Qualcomm and Scripps Health are partners in the effort, but Topol said the $45 million donation by philanthropists Gary and Mary West is what made it all possible. Without the institute, Topol said, “Perhaps some of these things would happen anyway, but they may never [have been] done right… Over time, we should be able to click into all those things that we want to do.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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