We are beginning to get a taste of the patient of the future. It is scary, interesting and challenging. “These individuals come from all walks of life: early adopters, fitness freaks, technology evangelists, personal-development junkies, hackers and patients suffering from a wide variety of health problems,” according to a recent Economist article entitled “Counting every moment.”
Whether called “self-tracking,” “body hacking,” or “self-quantifying,” these individuals believe that gathering, analyzing and sharing data about their activities and health will make a difference in their everyday lives. Some go much further.
Larry Smarr’s quest to quantify everything about his health led to a new diagnosis and control over his life as described by Jon Cohen in Technology Review. Smarr wears a Fitbit, a Zeo, and a Polar WearLink. He paid 23andMe to analyze his DNA, uses Your Future Health to have blood and stool samples analyzed, and he personally monitors about 100 biomarkers. And he shares this information.
The author of this article, Jon Cohen, has ulcerative colitis, a condition similar to Crohn’s disease, which Smarr self diagnosed by following immune and inflammatory markers. Both Jon and his gastroenterologist, Dr. William Sandborn, share a sense of skepticism and hope about the new medical world. “I have no doubt this is the future of medicine, but I have no idea how to get there from here.”
And we doctors complained when patients came to us with downloads of way too much material from the internet! Now we will be seeing spreadsheets of information, diagrams, trend lines, etc. Larry Smarr is a brilliant scientist and did most of the analysis himself, presenting almost final associations to his gastroenterologist. But most individuals have neither the interest nor the capacity to do the same. It will fall to us physicians and healthcare providers.
So, what does it cost? Smarr estimated that he spends between $5,000 and $10,000 beyond healthcare insurance. I would have guessed much more, particularly if his personal time doing the research and analysis is included. Who pays?
Just as in other industries, where information became overwhelming, strategies were developed, systems innovated and processes improved to clean knowledge from data, medicine needs that same approach.