This is the opening of a Quartz article reporting on the FDA’s recent 23andMe approval to sell analysis for 10 genetically linked diseases:
Doctors are losing their role as the gatekeeper of our health information, for better or worse.
The article concludes with this question:
As patients get more information, the important question to ask is: Will they know what to do with it?
The answer is no. And it doesn’t matter how much you read or how much information you have the capacity to access. It’s the difference between information, knowledge and wisdom. Google can’t help you beyond the information.
Are doctors prepared for medicine’s trajectory?
Then look at these diseases and tell me that your average doctor is in a position to help the average patient understand what they need to know. Most current physicians were trained to understand organs, not genes. And what may have been understood at one point may be irrelevant in our current state of exponential information growth.
23andMe’s position raises questions about the changing role of the physician. To think that an interaction with a physician will be limited to a peek at the throat and a listen to the chest is charming at best. At worst it’s a fast track to irrelevance.
Perhaps more importantly it raises questions about how modern medical education is preparing the next generation of physicians.
23andMe offers doctors an opportunity for redefinition
Increasingly patients will be in need of translational dialog that puts this kind of information into the proper context. And this isn’t about 23andMe. It’s about what what 23andMe represents. These 10 diseases or even genetic risk assessment don’t even come close to scratching the surface on what will be mined from our 3 cubic feet of meat. If we can’t help patients understand what this all means they will find someone who can.
Doctors will need to decide if this is what they do. And if it isn’t, then what is? As doctors turn more clinical care over to other types of health providers will this new emerging need represent one more lost opportunity for redefinition?
Gel sequencing image from the Internet Book Archive.