Home medical diagnosis

The earlier we can diagnose serious illnesses, the more we can do to cure them. Many advances have been made in diagnosis over the last century, but a serious bottleneck has remained. The patients need to come to a medical practitioner in order to be diagnosed and this means that they need to wait for a yearly checkup, or until symptoms have already begun. Either way, valuable time will have been lost.

This bottleneck may soon be removed. A leading scientist, Dr Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology, has announced that an easy to use home test may soon be available:

“In 10 years’ time, we envisage having a simple test you could do two to three times a year, which uses a prick of blood to check the health of each organ in they body”

The test would use a new technique called ‘proteomic fingerprinting’ which analyses the proteins in the blood. When an organ is struck by disease there are changes in the proteins that it releases into the blood and these can be detected by the test kit, thus diagnosing the illness.

There are, however, ethical concerns about such home testing. Doctors typically mediate the diagnostic process, making decisions about what news to break to the patient and how best to break it. Home tests could cause unnecessary anxiety for patients who are at the early stages of untreatable diseases or who receive bad news in a situation where there is no-one present to explain the implications.

While these concerns are worthy of serious attention, we must first note that they are significantly outweighed by the benefits of these proteomic tests. The ability to start treatment for diseases much earlier in their development will save numerous lives and avoid much ill health.

Furthermore, it is not too difficult to avoid these ethical concerns altogether. For example, in the rare cases that the tests pick up a disease, the kit can simply advise the patients to go to their GP for a followup test (with a note as to the urgency of such a test). This would only require a modest increase in the GP workload and allow all the benefits of the patient-doctor interaction along with those of frequent screening.

Finally, there is the issue of patients being informed of serious incurable diseases. We could easily eliminate this drawback by programming the test kits not to report on a certain range of diseases that are currently incurable. The kits would still have all their other benefits but an appointment with a GP would be required to determine if one has any early stage incurable disease. Alternatively, this ability could be switched on if the patient desires and has been appropriately counselled.

Guardian Article

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