Last May I had the opportunity to talk a while with Wired Magazine's Thomas Goetz about the idea of how people can take control their over own health care using the tools and data available on the Internet. His new book on the subject, entitled The Decision Tree, is a step above most health improvement books in terms of the scholarship/readability (i.e. it's based on good science and it's easy for me to understand.)
The big idea is this: A person's health doesn't happen all at once; it's a consequence of years of choices – some large and some small, some good and some bad. His book looks at the choices that advances in genomics, self-monitoring, new screening techniques, and collaborative health tools are giving the average patient. The trouble is, there's so much information available that it's really, really hard to interpret it all. What to do? According to Goetz, the answer is to make a decision tree.
Decision trees or flowcharts that make all of these decisions more visible and more obviously something we are actually choosing. Unfortunately, most current decision trees look like the one to the right: technical and hard to understand
But where we are apparently headed is in the direction of interactive ones like this one at Preventative Math.net. It really makes the tradeoffs clear: If I do this (e.g. take a baby aspirin daily) I can expect to add X days to my life. For me, the daily aspirin adds a probable 293 day to life span – why wouldn't I do that?
The test and interface is simple. In fact, I wish there were a lot more factors to play with (e.g. how many days of life, if any, would a daily glass of red wine add, etc?) I eagerly await the day that an organization that I trust puts up a decision tree website like that with a lot more factors (daily alcohol intake, quantity of fruit eaten per day, basement radon test, etc.)