A central belief of the modern world is that the more data we have about something, the better. Data helps us interpret, understand and predict the world. At least, that’s the theory. I’ve never been convinced of this.
Entire departments in the NHS have started to analyze and analyze figures in recent years, collecting massive amounts of data in the belief that it provides the answer to all of the health service’s problems. Has it made the NHS more efficient? Have patients gotten better? Of course not. It just made more apparatchiks, more paper pushers, and more people to harvest and process the reams of numbers.
Obviously, no matter what we’re told by government agencies or tech giants, more data isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it is a distraction and sometimes it can even be counterproductive.
Think, for example, of smart devices. These were heralded as gateways to understanding our bodies. They can generate unparalleled amounts of data about any physiological function. They can give us the kind of information that even doctors couldn’t access a decade ago.
NHS psychiatrist Dr. Max Pemberton, explains that constant health monitoring is not necessarily healthy (file image)
They can give us not only intimate details of our bodily functions, but minute-by-minute, or even second-by-second, updates and information.
There is no doubt that some things have been helpful.
During the pandemic, many of my patients in the eating disorders ward where I worked bought portable heart devices linked to their phones. This meant they didn’t have to come for an EKG (heart exam) when they were shielding. But the main difference is that the results, however they were achieved, were analyzed by an expert – they were data that I could see and interpret.
The same goes for continuous glucose monitoring. A small device is permanently attached to a person’s arm with tiny probes that penetrate the skin to test the glucose in a person’s blood. This is relayed to their phone and can give them precise and detailed information about how much insulin they need. But doctors are in the best position to interpret this data.
The problem with many of these claims is that it is the person who has to decipher them.
It’s rumored that Apple’s next-generation smartwatches, to be announced in the coming weeks, could include a thermometer to help with fertility planning.
Is this a good thing? I imagine those hoping to conceive will consider it an essential tool.
dr. Max Pemberton (pictured) said that if you really have a sleep problem, controlling it risks making it worse
But I’m not so sure. This constant monitoring and surveillance of our health is not necessarily healthy. In fact, many doctors worry that many of these health gadgets and apps are of little use and can ironically make things worse. Sleep apps are blamed for giving people insomnia because they make people so worried that they can’t sleep, for example.
Many are aimed at the ‘concerned’ – people with no symptoms, but who operate under the misconception that checking a function could somehow improve things.
Still, sleep experts have explained that if you fall asleep normally and have no symptoms, there is absolutely no reason to use a sleep app. The concern is that if people do, they become more preoccupied with their sleep patterns and this in turn hinders a good night’s sleep.
The NHS needs £10bn or it will be forced to end services, bosses warn. So let’s have an honest debate about what we want from our healthcare in the 21st century. Should IVF still be given, or bariatric surgery? It pains me to admit it, but we have to decide what’s reasonable for a government-funded service to fund — and what’s not.
Conversely, if you really have a sleep problem, monitoring it risks making it worse. In fact, part of treating ailments is to try to make the patient think less about their sleep, not more.
It’s a similar story with apps and devices used to track the menstrual cycle and ovulation to help couples trying to conceive. There are now concerns that the fear and worry they cause could have a counterproductive effect on people’s ability to conceive, as they increase stress hormones, which in turn affect fertility.
I’ve seen this a few times in couples who were so desperate to conceive that the stress almost caused them to break up. When they finally throw in the towel and give up trying, boom, she gets pregnant.
Health anxiety is the country’s new epidemic, fueled in part by these apps and gadgets. Weight and fitness apps are blamed for increasing people’s concerns about their weight, making them unnecessarily preoccupied with their diet, fueling eating disorders.
Could it be that our obsession with collecting more and more data about ourselves to improve our health is doing just the opposite?
- The Covid vaccine deadline for care home staff has sparked a ‘bed-blocking’ crisis in the NHS as there are ‘unsafe’ levels of double-shot workers, managers claim.
All nursing home staff must be fully vaccinated from 11 November.
I fully support this policy and while it is going to be a difficult time in the short term, and even potentially a small number of carers leaving the profession, we absolutely cannot have staff who are not vaccinated.
This is no different from our expectations of doctors and nurses who cannot step into a ward until they prove they have a large number of vaccinations. The real scandal is that this has not routinely been the case for healthcare workers.
Yes, children have rights, but they also need discipline
dr. Max worries that the purpose of Angelina Jolie’s (pictured) children’s book is part of the trend in Western society to see children as equals to adults
Angelina Jolie has co-authored a children’s book on children’s rights with Amnesty International called Know Your Rights And Claim Them. It’s a laudable goal: to educate children about human rights and encourage them to stand up for injustice around the world. But I worry that it’s part of the recent trend in Western society to see children as equals to adults and treat them as such.
This means that instead of educating, disciplining and urging children to do things they may not enjoy, but which an adult knows are best, children are given free rein.
I now look at children – defiant, disobedient and unruly – and listen to their poor, beleaguered parents who try in vain to negotiate with them as if the child were an adult. It seems so unfair.
- Forty percent of children say they have been bullied, according to a study by the charity Diana Award.
But wait, can this really be true? Almost half have been bullied? That’s an astonishing number. I’m not downplaying the impact of bullying. My problem with these kinds of statistics is that they stretch the definition of bullying to the point where it becomes meaningless and thus diminishes real, real bullying.
Being mean or making nasty comments is disturbing, but bullying is not, which is persistent, targeted and repeated abuse by a more powerful person against a less powerful target.
It seems necessary to label anything even slightly unpleasant, rather than seeing it as part of life and something that has to be endured, worked through or negotiated.
Doctor Max prescribes…
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