Dr. Welch is a professor of medicine at Dartmouth (and author of the excellent book Overdiagnosed) who was recently asked to comment on Mark Cuban’s suggestion that anyone who can afford it should get quarterly bloodwork to track their health – advice Dr. Welch called “a recipe for making all of us sick.”
We all harbor abnormalities, and increasingly our technologies are able to detect them – be they biochemical, be they structural. We can see things down to millimeters in size; we can measure things down to parts per billion; and we can sequence the whole genome. That’s 3 billion data points.
So there’s no shortage of biometric data that people could be collecting on themselves regularly, and by the way, there’s a huge financial interest in having people do that. The market of the well is a huge, huge market.
The problem is you’ll always be catching things out of what we would say is normal. This is anticipatory medicine at its worst, where you’re really focused on what could be going wrong in the future and you’re trying to pick up [a] signal.
The problem is there’s so much noise, because the human body is a living organism. Variation is the very essence of life. People will start reacting to this data. I also think it’s really important to label it what it is: data. To me it only becomes information to the extent that it accurately predicts something will happen in the future, and it only becomes useful knowledge – a higher level piece of information – if we can do something about it.
Image by jaubele1, via Flickr