Pepperdine Magazine is the feature magazine for Pepperdine University and its growing community of alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends.
I first learned of cardiologist, geneticist, and digital healthcare expert Eric Topol while listening to an episode of Armchair Expert, a podcast hosted by comedian Dax Shepard. On Mondays Shepard interviews, with great candor, celebrities and other recognizable individuals about their rise in the entertainment industry. But each Thursday Shepard satisfies his own insatiable curiosity about the world around him by featuring experts in diverse disciplines who are doing transformative work in their highly specialized fields.
As a child and into my adolescence I would pore over my parents’ medical books that lined the dark shelves in their shared office. I had so many questions, and the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy held the key to my answers (and subsequent questions) in great photographic detail. On one memorable occasion, my 14-year-old self was convinced of yet another self-diagnosed ailment and was almost disappointed to discover, thanks to the determination made by a highly amused pediatrician, that it was nearly impossible at my age to develop spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s spinal cord doesn’t form properly.
Now both retired, my mom—a pre-med graduate who recently completed an incredible 47-year career as a high school biology teacher—and dad—who, with a PhD in immunology, inspired many of his high school and college chemistry students to pursue careers in the medical field—were unable to influence my career path in a way that harnessed my curiosity about genetic engineering as a (short-lived) biology major in college before I transferred to the English department. But as a journalist, I constantly tap into that childlike inquisitiveness by picking the brains of the individuals and covering the stories that interest me most.
As I listened to the Topol episode, my questions were endless. “Should patients own their own data?” “Are younger physicians at an advantage in the age of artificial intelligence due to their advanced technical literacy?” “When will those personal smartphone- powered ultrasound body scanners he talked about be available for purchase?” I took feverish notes while gasping at the staggering data Topol presented about modern medicine and the ways in which artificial intelligence will transform how we engage with those responsible for managing our healthcare. I could listen to him talk forever. So when I learned that he was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Future of Healthcare Symposium hosted by the Graziadio Business School, I knew I had to marry my personal interest in healthcare AI and Pepperdine’s vested interest in this emerging field.
Believe me. When I interviewed the experts for this issue’s cover story, I asked all of the questions and geeked out over the overwhelming promise of a new age of medicine. I was fascinated by the advances in remote healthcare currently being used by patients recovering from major medical procedures, and I remain intrigued by the potential of deep learning, which enables computers to adopt the innate behaviors and habits that only humans possess. I hope you’re as excited as I am about applications of AI in healthcare. They will make a significant impact on how we take care of ourselves in ways we were able to only imagine a few years ago.