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Hack Your Health: A Discussion with Thomas Goetz, Author of The Decision Tree

GS: You mentioned early adopterhood just now: what are some other new techs that maybe haven’t yet gotten to the top of that curve yet but that you see as promising in this regard for the future?

TG: Some new technology?

GS: Yeah, new technologies.

TG: So there are all sorts of self tracking — I think self tracking is where it would start. There are all sorts of ways that we can start quantifying and turning our daily lives into data, and those tools go from diet apps on the iPhone to the Nike Plus running just a little sole monitor that lets you run, to Get Fit, which is this little 99 dollar gadget that has an accelerometer in it that tracks everything from your cadence and calorie consumed daily to your sleep quality. There are an increasing number of these tools and gadgets that let you get a baseline. And I think that  a lot of this right now tends towards preventive health. You want to understand what your baseline is and then maintain good health or work towards pretty simple goals like losing weight or getting more exercise. Simple to think about something that’s simple to achieve. The opportunity as this kind of gets further as the technology is easier to use it starts to become beyond preventive medicine and into treatment and cures. When you think about people with diabetes, they have been — not by choice but by requirement — they have been geeking out on their health for decades, right?

GS: That’s interesting.

TG: I mean they’re tracking their glucose, they’re tracking their sugar content how many carbs they’re eating, they’re tracking how and when and how often they take insulin shots, I mean they are really early adopters in a sense that I think all of us will be if not, even if we won’t have the incentive that diabetics do, we will have the opportunity to move the needle on our own health in a similar way.

“This stuff is playing along classic technology adoption lines. So right now you see little startups, a lot of them based in Silicon Valley, offering these new tracking tools and devices. At the same time, you have people like Google and Microsoft who are offering people ways to track and manage your data.”

GS: That’s an interesting analogy. In the course of writing and researching the book have you made any personal lifestyle changes as a result of either the information or the technology you’ve been exposed to?

TG: Well yes, so I have — I have tried pretty much everything in the book. I have gotten my genome partially scanned, I have gotten my families genome partially scanned, and I’ve tried all of the gadgets here. And have also sort of gotten my father actually to use some of these, who has Parkinson’s disease and he’s enrolled in one of these aging communities that’s very quantitative it’s called Patients Like Me. So I have found them very useful tools. Again in a preventive sense, I don’t have – thankfully – at the moment I don’t have anything at the moment that I need to be treating or managing.

GS: Do you think that any of the powers that be, whether industries or products, have an incentive not to move in this direction? Say, the pharmaceutical industry: it’s arguable that they would have an incentive for people taking medications rather than taking simple steps to reduce their risks.

TG: Right, well so there are – I mean really, this stuff is playing along classic technology adoption lines. So right now you see little start ups, a lot of them based in Silicon Valley, offering these new tracking tools and devices. At the same time, you have people like Google and Microsoft who are offering people ways to track and manage your data. So, kind of the story now. I’ve talked to big nutrition companies – food companies, nutrition companies – and they are intrigued by the idea. They’re not exactly sure – to some extent, they’re already doing this. They have recognized the gluten-free product category, even though only 2 or 3 percent of the American population has food allergies and actually would be really adverse to gluten — it turns out that millions of more people actually want to use gluten free products because it’s kind of “health.” So you have a lot of people using gluten free products, just as one example. You don’t necessarily need to, but they think it’s a healthier choice. So they’re starting to recognize that giving people choices and options and basically helping people engage with their health. This idea that people don’t want to be passive about it, they want to be active participants in their health. That is an exciting consumer movement. It’s building, as I say, along classic early adopter to mass market lines right now.

The pharmaceutical companies, they will always be, they are involved. Their products are geared towards the treatment and management of the disease. So in terms of the early preventive side of this part of the spectrum, that’s not really where they lie anyway. But certainly down the road it matters, because you get into personalized treatment and stuff like pharmaco-genetics where you’re tailoring drug therapies to an individual’s genome. And basically, you’re going to have people who have less tolerance. You know, our drugs are oftentimes remarkably ineffective. Like antidepressants work in 50% of the population. The trick is which drug works for which 50%. So there’s this process of trial and error to get to a drug that works in, not depression, but all sorts of conditions. So I think if people become more conversant in data and probabilities they’re going to want to one, know the numbers. Know what are my odds this drug working cause right now they’re remarkably difficult statistics to get. And then two, they’re going want better targeting with less trial and error before they get a drug that actually works for them.

>>>NEXT PAGE: What are the metrics of the future?

You can find more information about The Decision Tree at the book’s official website: it’s available in hardcover and for Kindle at

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