Companies like Theranos and 23andMe represent a growing trend in health care towards preventive, personalized and patient-oriented health care. Better, faster, and cheaper health monitoring with the aim of preventing illness—isn’t that the ultimate expression of good health care? Going far beyond the ubiquitous weight scale, Theranos has developed tools that provide information on the well-being of the entire body. Yet, is daily monitoring that helpful?
More is better?
For people with an eating disorder, a scale may be a great tool for monitoring weight and overall well-being. Similarly, for those who have chronic conditions like diabetes, easy and accurate monitoring of blood sugar is a huge step forward in the management of their disease. However, for most of us, the fit of our clothes is a pretty good indicator of whether we are maintaining our desired weight. We can also usually rely on how we look and feel to know whether we are in good health, and don’t need a regular blood test. In other words, is knowing more necessarily better for healthy individuals?
Many screening tools, for example those for colon cancer, have proven their value. On the other hand, some diagnosis techniques have gotten so detailed, with false positives generating unnecessary additional tests and anxiety, that the risks of over-treatment can outweigh the benefit of the screening. As a result, some have questioned the value of annual check-ups for healthy individuals.
Malcom Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, explains how most systems have optimums. Would health care be such a system? In other words, could it be that whether you are healthy or severely ill, knowing more about your body’s intricacies is not necessarily going to increase your health? And that extensive health monitoring could do more harm than good? How do we know when we’ve reached the optimum level of monitoring in preventive health care?
Input from healthcare professionals is needed!
Only healthcare professionals can answer these questions. To ensure safe and effective health care, it is essential that providers take the lead in healthcare innovation, to make sure that it benefits both the healthy and the sick, and not just a firm’s bottom line.
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Gladwell, David and Goliath 2013