Personalized Risk Communication

Everyone has heard of the concept of personalized medicine – the idea that medicine can be steered to individuals who will be the most likely to benefit from it based on a number of factors, primarily genetic.  Personalized medicine involves not only the creation of good medicines, but the means to identify individuals who will get them.

This week as I filled my daily pills allotment into my calendar pill box (the most effective means for keeping me adherent to my medicines, by the way) I stopped to read all of the little sticky notes on the bottles.  “May make drowsy…” – really is that necessary to still put on the bottle even though I’ve been taking this medication daily for several years? Would it suddenly start making me drowsy after years of not doing so?  There were several put on the side, around the bottom – anywhere a sticky could be stuck.

But the real showstopper was “Discontinue use if pregnant.”  I won’t bore you with the details but there are some very good reasons why having children is not in the cards for me – and they are reasons well known to my pharmacist.

The stickies are harmless enough though – or are they?  Not a message in a bottle but rather on a bottle.  Does the presence of somewhat clumsy risk information communications that is irrelevant to the patient in fact undermine the credibility of all risk information?  Does a male patient taking a drug with a sticker on it – a sticker consciously added to the bottle and not part of the regular label or Medication Guide – perhaps unconsciously lead the patient to discount or ignore the rest of the information?

I don’t know the answer, but it is certainly worth pondering.  Let’s say you lived in Miami or a similar locale from a climate point of view -and each and every day when you left your apartment, your apartment manager put up a sign like the one to the right….. at first you might think it was funny – but under no account would you pay attention to it – and if he kept it up – you might question his credibility, among other things.

But what if the information he put on a sign and held up as you passed by said something like – “look out, there is a bill collector around the corner looking for you” – you would pay a lot of heed, you would take him very seriously and you would be grateful for his input.  You would certainly know he is looking out for you.  And you would watch for his next sign.

Personalization of risk information isn’t so far fetched an idea.  For those on Facebook, for example, you will have noticed that when you are using it that advertisements that are very targeted toward you (usually) over to the right hand side.  The accuracy of the aim may be off from time to time, but for the most part, they are appealing to you based on things you have indicated about yourself through your use of the medium.  Why can’t your risk for your medicines be just as adroitly aimed at you  – or at the very least, be relevant to you?

The technology is likely existent to make risk communications more effective.  With personalized medicine is well along the way, personalized risk communication should not be far behind it.

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