Personalized, More or Less

We live in an increasingly impersonal world. We hide behind technology. We text instead of talking – sometimes when we’re in the same room. We shop online. We “share” virtually. Yet — and, to some degree, as a result — we also live in a world where information about us is more widely available than ever, creating the ability to hyper-personalize communication and track our every move (as the Ed Snowden revelations remind us).

Personalized data

So what does this emerging tensionthe impersonal nature of technology-driven interchange vs. the personalization enabled by the vast array of data trailing behind such interchangeimply for modern medicine?

“Personalized medicine,” loosely defined, is about providing the right treatment for the right person at the right time. To deliver truly personalized medicine, however, requires a deep understanding about each individual’s health circumstances—and, thus, shared access to very personal information at the point of care. How will people view the trade-off between what they give up from a personal health privacy standpoint, and what they may stand to gain from the ubiquitous use of personal medical information to track and manage their health?

Here’s my view: While the recent NSA scandal may have spiked public concerns about un-permitted access to personal data, I don’t believe it will slow progress toward widespread use of personal health data. Why? Because the shift toward greater access to data is catalyzed by:

  • Several pretty big carrots—more productive research to find new treatments, better informed choices about medical providers and treatment options, and, ultimately, improved likelihood of better health outcomes; and,
  • One really big stick—the increasing allocation of the cost of healthcare to consumers/employers via the ACA and related changes in healthcare coverage (how will you make informed purchasing and treatment decisions absent the right information with which to do so).

Ironically, therefore, the more “virtual” a patient becomes (in that their data provides a more complete representation of their physical being, behaviors and health history), the more individualized their care can be. In the process, what might seem impersonal—a relationship and ongoing engagement defined by data and driven by technology—becomes hyper-personalized, to the benefit of all.