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The Downside of Precision Medicine

Precision medicine has been touted as the most accurate and personalized way to treat someone who is sick. But there may be a societal side effect, MIT Technology Review says. According to a new report by the Data & Society Research Institute in New York, certain groups in the US are in jeopardy of being worse off if precisions medicine becomes the norm.

"The one group notably not at risk: white men who can afford health insurance and a decent lifestyle," Tech Review says. "So who stands to lose?"

For one, the uninsured. Precision medicine needs data in order to be precise, and the uninsured tend not to go to the doctor. Hence, relatively little health information about these people gets collected. Likewise, Tech Review says, those who are "health-illiterate" are also at risk of being worse off. "A handful of big, ongoing precision-medicine studies are looking at people who wear electronic trackers to monitor their vital signs. Those people tend to be early adopters of technology. They're likely to be physically active, interested in improving their health, well educated, and living near major cities. Researchers will need to find ways to get people who are less 'health literate' to join such studies; otherwise precision medicine may end up mostly benefiting urban elites," the article adds.

Women and minorities may also get the short end of the stick as they're often excluded from research studies. If precision medicine relies on historical data, it could be "inherently biased," according to Tech Review

Some people also worry that the findings of precision medicine research could be used to discriminate against immigrants, and other people who are already marginalized. 

And finally, people in poor health may suffer from precision medicine, rather than benefiting from it, Tech Review says. "Because precision medicine would produce personalized health recommendations, it would be likely to put more responsibility on individuals to take charge of their own health. Those who do it best would be the 'uncommonly tech savvy, highly health literate, self-directed, information seeking, English fluent, health focused, and well insured,' according to bioethicist Mark Rothstein, quoted in the report. Meanwhile, for people without resources and those already in poor health, the recommendations could feel confusing, overwhelming, and even intrusive, causing them to distrust the information they're getting," the article adds.