“I’m sorry that you didn’t receive treatment and ignored Google Doctor’s advice, so we now cannot renew your health insurance.”
This is what we might hear in twenty or thirty years’ time when biometric sensors will be developed to monitor our vital parameters every second of the day, and when it will probably no longer be public in our healthcare system. There are already sophisticated sensors that serve to keep chronic patients under control who have just been discharged, but they’re only used for a few days because we are not structured in such a way that we can follow patients outside the hospital for a long period of time, but we will get there (read here for more details).
How will this be possible?
We’re accumulating a lot of data on people’s health; the so-called Big Data (here I explain what it is) and soon they will be integrated into the health system and, above all, they could be made available to others, in addition to the Doctors who are treating us.
The Big Data algorithms will be able to measure our state of health (blood sugar, heart rate, weight, blood pressure and many other parameters), and will be able to advise us on the diet and physical activity to maintain, in order to match our lifestyle (hours of sleep, mattress quality, posture, spa treatments and so on). Obviously it won’t just be advice but real commercial offers. On the other hand, doesn’t it already happen when we go on the internet and do a search? Immediately afterwards, on any page we visit, we’re chased by the advertising banners associated with the previous search. This is what Google facilitates, and soon it will “be there” for your health. Google Doctor is a fancy name, but maybe not so fancy, considering the investments Google is making in the health sector (read here for more details) with pharmaceutical giants such as Sanofi.
It’s not so difficult to assume that 30 years from now, the complete sequencing of the genome for each of us will (probably) be performed right at birth, in order to predict the probability of manifesting a genetic disease (here for more information). Therefore, the integration of the data of the moment (i.e. the biometric data collected daily, with the innate data — also, the genetic data that is processed by Big Data algorithms), will make it possible to precisely determine when a seasonal disease such as influenza will begin, as well as to predict exactly when a cancer or degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or an autoimmune disease will occur.
What will be the associated consequences of this progress?
We will have the best health care system in history, probably a private one; largely because of the cost and quality of innovation. There will be the possibility of preventing many diseases or “states of malaise” with the early diagnosis of diseases that can result in chronic pain or lead to disability. This is the positive side, however we must also be aware that we’ll be continuously monitored, and since the human body is not perfect, we’ll always be “sick” (i.e. there will always be something that the Big Data algorithms will find better and will recommend that we take a supplement, visit a specialist, receive a psychological evaluation or take a specific drug. In addition, we could fall into the trap of over-diagnosis by no longer trusting our body’s innate ability to fight disease and therefore heal ourselves.
Finally, if we were to ignore the advice of Google Doctor; for example, instructing us to lose weight or to stop smoking in order to avoid increasing the risk of diabetes, cancer or heart attack, then our health insurance coverage could be canceled.
A Big Brother scenario? Maybe. It’s already reality that Google knows (or at least, attempts to know) what we want, what we like, and what we might wish to buy. What’s to stop Google from doing this in health care as well? On the other hand, it has already started working with pharmaceutical companies!
This post is also available in: Italiano