Home > data science > Best case/ worst case: Medicine 50 years from now

Best case/ worst case: Medicine 50 years from now

May 31, 2012

Best Case

The scientific models and, when possible, the data have been made available to the wider scientific community for vetting. Incorrect or non-robust results are questioned and thrown out by that community, interesting and surprising new results are re-tested on larger data sets under iterative and different conditions to test for universality.

The result is that a person, with the help of their doctor and thorough exams and information-gathering session, and with their informed consent to use this data for their benefit, will have a better idea of what to watch out for in terms of health risks, how to prevent certain diseases that they may be vulnerable to, and how the tried-and-true medicines would affect them.

For example, in spite of the fact that Vioxx gives some people heart attacks, it also really helps other people with joint pain that aspirin or ibuprofen can’t touch. But which people? In the future we may know the answer to this through segmentation models, which group people by their attributes (which could come under the category of daily life conditions, such as how much someone exercises, or under the category of genetic profile).

For example, we recently learned that exercise is not always good for everyone. But instead of using that unlikely possibility as an excuse not to do any exercise, we could be able to look at a given profile and tell a person if they are in the clear and what kind of exercises would be most beneficial to their health.

It wouldn’t solve every problem; people would still die, after all. But it could help people live happier and healthier lives. It depends on the open exchange of ideas among scientists as well as strong regulation about who owns personal data and how it can be used.

Worst Case

The scientific community continues its practice of essentially private data collection and models. Scientific journals become more and more places where, backed by pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, paid Ph.D.’s boast about their latest breakthrough with no cultural standard of evidence.

Indeed there is progress in segmentation models for disease and medicine, but the data, models, and results are owned exclusively by corporations, specifically insurance companies. This leads to a death spiral in modeling, where the very people who are vulnerable to disease and need medicine or treatment the most are priced out of the insurance system and no longer have access to anything resembling reasonable medical care, even for chronic diseases such as diabetes.

And you won’t need to give your consent for those insurance companies to use your data – they will have already bought all the data that they need to know about you from data collectors, which have been gleaning information about you from your online presence since birth. These companies will know everything about you; they control and sell your data for extra profit. To them, you represent a potential customer and a potential cost, a risk/return profile like any other investment.

Categories: data science
  1. mmmmbacon
    May 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    It is not possible to conclude from the study you linked that “exercise is not good for everyone”. At best, the study provided some evidence for that claim. Among the group that experienced increased levels of risk factors, there may be other aspects that play a more primary role than exercise, such as sleep, or diet – which may have been constant during the study, but not controlled in any other way. Exercise might merely exacerbate or trigger the condition. Risk factor increase may be transient. Actual adverse outcomes would be better evidence.

  2. May 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Hm… I’d agree here with the article – you can’t have it both ways.

  3. mmmmbacon
    May 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Sure, I agree with that, but there’s a huge body of evidence that exercise causes positive outcomes, not merely a decrease of risk factors. It’s an asymmetric comparison. It’s an important study and more needs to be done, but it’s too early to conclude anything, that’s my only point.

  4. rob
    June 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Or what is already happening: pharmaceuticals aggressively market their new products regardless of cost-effectiveness or side effects or health effectiveness through an insurance system that is supported by a government that supports a pharmaceutical industry. More treatment, less health. Add the legal fears of hospitals and the economic interests of doctors — health becomes an afterthought in an economy of treatments.

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