September 27, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Take a medical selfie: a taste of your own medicine

“Take a Selfie”, has become a catch phrase in pop culture. There is a preoccupation with capturing one’s own existence and key moments in pictures. Another trend is a DIY culture including taking initiative with one’s own health. When combined together we are in the midst of a larger trend in medicine where patients will be increasingly taking what some call a “medical selfie”.

Medical Selfie

Kaiser has even introduced a “medical selfie” program. The US CDC has also been promoting the idea of medical selfies (see image above).

There are distinct potential positives and negatives to the concept of a medical selfie that are revealed as we consider the forms that it may take. One form of medical selfie is using one’s smart phone or other electronics to acquire health information about oneself. This trend toward patient self-analysis could empower patients.

A potential downside is that patients are not as qualified as doctors to interpret the data that is collected about their health.

I tend to lean toward patients having more information and data being a good thing, but how will this play out in terms of risks and benefits? What are current trends here?

Medical selfies may extend further as patients become enabled to obtain their own whole genomic DNA sequences, maybe their own microbiome sequences, and more. Will patients potentially overreact or take dramatic actions based on their genome data? These kind of issues have arisen with 23andMe. Also for instance, in the CDC example above, gene mutation data could lead patients to overestimate risk in some cases and take extreme action.

Another trend in the stem cell field is related to the medical selfie. This is the growing notion that patients should be able to get self transplants of their own cells without “interference” from the FDA or state medical boards. As readers of this blog will know, I’m not a big fan of this idea because of understated risks and overstated potential benefits from predatory stem cell clinics. More broadly, if medical selfies extend to self-treatment without adequate medical guidance or supervision, clear dangers arise.

As medical selfies become more an integrated part of culture, in order to maximize possible upsides and reduce downsides, we need parallel programs of patient education about health issues such as genome sequence data and more.

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