My annual trip to Stanford’s Medicine X this year has me seeing the value of stories. There’s a certain irony baked into Medicine X: It’s about medicine’s shiny future while at once being about the patient story.
And it has me thinking that context is digital medicine’s biggest problem.
It seems technology is reducing everything to its most basic element. Clay Christiansen and Jason Hwang in The Innovator’s Prescription suggest that we are moving from a medical landscape that’s intuitive to one that’s precise. And we seem to like it that way. Precise medicine represents laser-targeted progress. Precision captures headlines. The latest advances serve as link bait for Twitter’s roving technoutopians. Medicine X’s closing keynote was even delivered by Vinod Khosla who reminded us that a doctor just can’t do it like a machine.
But the problem with so many digital tools is the story. Because when it comes to humans, data can be understood only in the context of a patient’s story. Patient stories are complicated.
Context is why
- Medical advice on Twitter doesn’t work.
- Dermatologic diagnosis may never ultimately be relegated to an iPhone alone.
- Isolated genomic analysis will always have its limitations.
But we so want to dissociate ourselves from the sticky, human nature of disease. Targeted, space-age diagnostics absolve us from our own clumsy nature. The binary nature of data offers a clean escape from the hardest stuff.
There’s no doubt that precision medicine is coming hard and strong. But context is why humans will always have some hand in the process of seeing it all come together.