Mark Cuban’s Suggestion to Do Regular Blood Tests

I’ve been really intrigued by the tweets from Mark Cuban and the response from many to his tweets from those in the healthcare IT community. Here’s a summary of the 3 tweets which ignited the discussion:

  1. If you can afford to have your blood tested for everything available, do it quarterly so you have a baseline of your own personal health
  2. create your own personal health profile and history. It will help you and create a base of knowledge for your children, their children, etc
  3. a big failing of medicine = we wait till we are sick to have our blood tested and compare the results to “comparable demographics”

My friends Dan Munro and Gregg Masters have both been writing a lot about the subject, but there are many others as well. They’ve been hammering Mark Cuban for “giving medical advice” to people when he’s not a doctor. I find these responses really ironic since many of the people who are railing against Mark Cuban are the same people who are calling for us to take part in the quantified self movement.

What I think these people who rail against Mark Cuban want to say is: Don’t misunderstand what Mark’s saying. More testing doesn’t always improve healthcare. In fact, more testing can often lead to a lot of unneeded healthcare.

This is a noble message that’s worthy of sharing. However, I think Mark Cuban understands this. That’s why one of his next tweets told people to get the tests, but don’t show the results to their doctors until they’re sick. In fact, Mark even suggests in his tweets that the history of all these tests could be beneficial to his children and their children. He also calls it a baseline. Mark’s not suggesting that people get these blood tests as a screening for something, but as a data store of health data that could be beneficial sometime in the future.

How is Mark Cuban storing the results of a bunch of blood tests any different than him storing the results from his fitbit or other health sensor?

One problem some people have pointed out is that if you’re doing these blood tests as a baseline, then what if the blood tests weren’t accurate? Then, you’d be making future medical decisions based on a bunch of incorrect data. This is an important point worth considering, but it’s true of any health history. Plus, how are we suppose to make these blood tests more accurate? If the Mark Cuban’s of the world want to be our guinea pigs and do all these blood tests, that’s fine with me. Having them interested in the data could lead to some breakthroughs in blood testing that we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Along with improving the quality of the data the tests produce, it’s possible that having all of this data could help people discover something they wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Certainly any of these possible discoveries should go through the standard clinical trial process before being applied to patients broadly. However, researchers only have so much time and so many resources to commit to clinical trials. Could all the data from a wide swatch of blood tests better help a research identify which research or clinical trials are worth pursuing first? I think so.

For me it all goes back to the wide variety of health sensors that are hitting the market. A blood test is just a much more powerful test than many of the health sensors we see on the market today. So, the warning to be careful about what you read into all these blood tests is an incredibly important message. However, with that fair warning, I don’t see any problem with Mark’s suggestion. In fact, I think all of the extra data could lead to important discoveries that improve the quality of the tests and what measurements really matter.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

7 Comments

  • The reason we try not to test healthy individuals for tests specifically designed to find disease is that every test has a relatively fixed false positive rate.

    Let’s say the false positive rate for a test for Leukemia is 1%.

    If you suspect someone has leukemia (You are 20% sure they have Leukemia). You test 10,000 people and the test is positive 2100 times. 2000 times showing Leukemia truly and 100 showing Leukemia as a false positive. The 100 false positives will need further workup to rule our Leukemia, which might be disturbing but they were already concerned they had Leukemia anyway.

    Now go to a healthy population, where 1 in 10,000 actually have Leukemia. You test 10,000 healthy individuals and 101 are positive. 1 is a true positive, and 100 are false positive and will need further workup to rule our Leukemia, at great cost and anxiety, because they thought they were healthy.

    Over 99% of your positives are false positives. Our health care system can’t afford our current level of testing, much less testing of everyone for everything randomly.

    There are tests we do in healthy populations as screening tests, but even these limit the population tested to those where the false positive and true positive rate make sense. For example screening mammography in women age 40 and above works to save lives with an acceptable false positive rate. But mammography in 20 years olds would have few true positives and huge numbers of false positives as well as radiation danger to a young breast.

    Randomly doing all tests on all people without understanding the implications and cost of false positives is not good or cost effective medicine.

  • My first thought is how to get a test done without an order from a provider.
    Perhaps the patient could be ‘self pay’, but many blood tests are expensive.
    Would a commercial lab even allow tests to be done without an order?

  • I agree with the general message of this post that “extra data could lead to important discoveries that improve the quality of the tests and what measurements really matter.” And I definitely agree with the fact that we should let those with deep pockets be the guinea pigs.

    Two comments that I disagree with – or at least take some issue with:

    1. “get the tests, but don’t show the results to their doctors until they’re sick.”

    This doesn’t make any sense. If the results show abnormal or borderline measures, why should people wait until they’re sick? And the point you acknowledge and many others made is that extraneous testing WILL lead to false positives and create additional, unneeded testing and procedures.

    2. “How is Mark Cuban storing the results of a bunch of blood tests any different than him storing the results from his fitbit or other health sensor?”

    The difference is that – at least to my knowledge – Fitbit and other health sensors I’ve seen don’t issue a score or measure against any traditional norms. A blood test does and this goes back to my comment on #1 above. People will likely get unnecessarily worried and start the ball rolling on additional tests and procedures.

  • I think Direct-to-Consumer testing is the future of healthcare, however, without a doctor interpretation or guidance, these tests for the most part are pretty useless. However, I think basic tests like metabolic and lipid panels should be easily accessed by the general public. I would love to know after working out and eating well for months has lowered my cholesterol. I have been working on a website called Push Health that hopefully can solve this dilemna.

  • Kevin,
    I guess that’s the issue I have with people’s look at Mark Cuban’s comment. The tests aren’t about good or cost effective medicine. It’s about having so much money (billionaire qualifies) that you don’t know how to spend it all and so the cost has zero relevance. However, if he’s the one true positive that discovers something early, then I think he’ll take that even if there’s risk of a false positive.

    Steve,
    I’m still chewing on the tell the doctor part. I’ve been through some false positive stuff before. We dealt with it fine and for a pretty long period of time. However, I know some that wouldn’t.

    Many of the health sensors are measuring against norms. Even the basic blood pressure cuff is doing that. The single node ECG are also doing it. It’s very similar I think.

    Patrice and Andy,
    There’s definitely a movement for direct to consumer lab tests. We’ll see where it goes. Your comment Andy about cholesterol is interesting. Whenever I give blood, they give me my cholesterol number. So, I’ve seen the value of that info first hand.

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