Last week, I got an email from 23andMe announcing that they had “genotyped more than one million people worldwide,” and that I was number 85,552. Big news for a company that has weathered a lot of ups and downs, particularly in November 2013 when the FDA demanded that they stop providing health information.
As number 85,552, I had signed up prior to the health information shut down, so I was privy to my health information. Luckily, as it turns out, my health information didn’t contain any earth shattering news. My ancestry results however were a big surprise.
Even with my unexpected genealogy results, my 23andMe results didn’t have a big impact on me personally. However, professionally, as a health care communicator, I believe that the fact one million consumers are willing to be genotyped is a big deal.
As their press release states, “Today, 23andMe has the world’s largest database of re-contactable individuals who have consented to participate in [genetic] research.” Talk about empowered consumers.
And 23andMe is just one of the many emerging services and products aimed at putting more health information into the hands of consumers. Consider the Scanadu Scout, a device that sends blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygen levels to a consumer’s iPhone.
I believe that the colossal amount of health information now available to consumers ups the ante for health care communicators in three ways:
• The ability to explain complex health information in simple ways is even more critical than ever before. Having a commitment to health literacy built into a company’s DNA will be the cost of doing business in our data rich world.
• Factoring in the consumer’s emotional increases in importance. Understanding the impact health information can have on a person’s emotional state can be the difference between effectively communicating and sending a consumer into a downward spiral of fear and confusion.
• Helping consumers turn knowledge into action is vital. Providing concrete next steps to help consumers act upon what they have learned turns reams of data into potentially lifesaving information.
As health care communicators, our ability to help consumers process the avalanche of health care information coming their way can make a real difference in people’s lives. For a robust understanding of what is coming down the pike, read Eric Topol’s latest book, “The Patient Will See You Now.” The book is a veritable canon on the trends in personalized medicine. As 23andMe’s #Powerof1Million announcement makes clear, the future is closer than we think.