The ‘Unlucky Shmuck’ Era of Medicine Is Ending
I was born in a small town in India. As my mother tells it, she went to a nearby clinic supervised by a doctor to have me.
Going to a clinic was something new in India at the time. My sister and I were the first kids in my family to be born away from home. My mother and all her brothers and sisters were born at home with the help of a midwife, or someone in the family who took the role of a midwife.
The thing is, despite this upgrade in where I was born … something went horribly wrong. The delivering nurse or doctor didn’t sterilize the knife used to cut the umbilical cord. And a few days after my mother took me home, I got a nasty, spreading skin infection that covered my head in pus-filled blisters.
For days, my mother went from doctor to doctor hoping that someone knew how to stop it.
Doctors didn’t seriously consider the critical role of cleanliness and sterilization in care then. Days passed. The infection kept spreading. Even now, my mother remembers how scared she was that no one could figure out what was going on.
Finally, a doctor at the birth clinic guessed right, that this was an infection caused from birth … and gave me an antibiotic.
Luck. Intuition. Skill. Who knows what made this doctor guess what it was … because clearly it was something that was unseen at the time.
A Revolution Is Unfolding
We in the United States think of our health care and medical system as being a highly scientific process. However, in reality, the essence of the system that I experienced at birth, one that’s based a great degree on a mix of luck, intuition and skill, is what we have even today.
Now, this kind of health care is a massive improvement over the previous version of health care. A Google search will show you that we did some horrific things to people back then … pedicle grafts, iron lung procedures, bloodletting, lobotomies, hysteria cures, poultices, nature cures and whatnot.
Looking back, those things seem insane. And the day is coming when future generations are going to look at our current system of health care in the same way.
Mark Cuban, a billionaire and an expert investor, put it like this recently in an interview with CNBC:
I’ve got a 5-year-old son. By the time he’s 25, the idea of going to a drugstore and buying over-the-counter medication will seem barbaric. He’s going to say: “Dad, what do you mean? You bought this medicine, and on this over-the-counter medicine there was a warning that said you might be the one unlucky schmuck that dies from this. And you actually bought it and paid for it?”
That’s exactly how I see it too. Today, we are on the front edge of a revolution that’s unfolding in health care and medicine. This revolution is being driven by being able to generate information on our medical conditions that we are now accumulating through electronic health records. Second, it’s being driven by the rapid decline in the cost of sequencing our genomic codes … which will soon be near $100.
These two things are going to allow us to take our information so that we can get a more precise diagnosis when something goes wrong. And then, we can be prescribed a treatment that maximizes our benefits and minimizes our side effects based on our specific genetic code.
This revolution of information-based, genetic health care is called precision medicine. And precision medicine, I believe, is going to upend the current “unlucky schmuck” era of the health care system in the way that Amazon remade the retail business.
It’s a time of great risk if you’re invested in the wrong companies.
Editor, Profits Unlimited