The following is another perspective on the Mark Cuban Twitter barrage of personal health advice this week. This post is submitted by one of our longtime contributors, Andrew Holtz.
Mark Cuban is old-fashioned and thinks small.
A couple of days ago, Cuban told his Twitter throngs to get quarterly blood tests, even when perfectly healthy, just because. A Twitter tussle ensured. My esteemed friend (and Pulitzer-winning journalist) Charlie Ornstein pointed out there’s no known benefit and plenty of problems with Cuban’s advice. Medical experts and others piled on.
Health cognoscenti basked in the superiority of their evidence and the righteousness of their collective response to Cuban’s “lunkheaded tweets”. Indeed, the expert response was correct: testing without a good reason rarely helps; it typically leads to anxiety at least, and too often shoves people onto a high-speed health care conveyor belt of follow-up testing and treatments, bumping and banging them with risks and harms that accumulate all down the line. Step 1: Shadow on a scan. Step 2: Biopsy. Step 3: Hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infection. Steps 4 and on are no fun at all.
Despite expert consensus, Cuban will prevail, though not quite as he imagines. As I said at the top, he’s old-fashioned and thinks small. Trudging across town to a lab every three months to get bled? That’s so 20th century. It’s labor intensive, time consuming, expensive and provides blips of data separated by months of darkness. Cuban said such testing would provide a baseline that would add context to test results obtained when someone is sick. But the signals would be sparse and hard to interpret. Diet, sleep, time of day or the seasons, recent activities or travel and many other factors could bounce the results around. Imagine being sent for a prostate biopsy just because you went on a long bike ride before a PSA test. (Many years ago, it almost happened to me.)
Speaking of cycling, I rarely hit the road without launching a phone app that tracks every mile, pace, climb… and could track workout intensity, power output, heart rate, cadence and more if I chose. It won’t be long before the incessant data logging that is already widespread in sports sprints past the daily-steps tracking by a Fitbit to global monitoring of every breath and heartbeat, every drop of sweat, even analyzing our blood without those pesky phlebotomists. Look, the Apple Watch already has a blood sugar monitor add-on and it’s not alone.
Our advertising streams will soon blossom with “just so you know” pitches for biometric devices and apps. Barriers of cost and effort will crumble. Data will flow. It will flow into a void of understanding, but the sad reality that we don’t know what to do with all this personal data won’t stop it from engulfing us.
That’s the future. A future it seems Cuban dimly glimpsed, while experts fight the last war, unprepared for the impending personal health data torrent. In the 1990s, docs started grumbling about uppity patients waving pages they had printed off the Internet. “Doc, what about this study?” They’re gonna be thrilled when patients start AirDropping months worth of data files from their phones on them. “Doc, what about this deviation in the trend last month?”
Quarterly blood tests and the arguments against them are so quaint.
Publisher’s note: See my earlier, related post: “Smart social media health care comments this week…and then there was Mark Cuban.” I’ve coined the phrase – Cuban Missive Crisis.
– Gary Schwitzer, Publisher
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