Non-Quantified Self

I went to the doctor twice this week1. The first visit was for a pain in my heel. The second visit was for a general checkup. Both surprised me.

For the heel appointment, the doctor pressed my foot in a few places, asked me if the pressure caused pain, and then concluded I had just sprained my ... some muscle in the heel2. He advised against an x-ray, and suggested that the foot would heal itself. He gave me a hand-crafted insert for my shoe and sent me on my way.

The check-up was more of the same. A lot of questions and poking of body parts. I also had a chance to demonstrate how uncoordinated I can be.

In both cases, very few numbers were recorded. My blood pressure, heart rate, and weight.

And even those were done in an ad hoc fashion. The procedure for recording my blood pressure: take a measurement. "It's too high." Take another measurement. "This one's lower. Good." Record the second measurement.

Wait, what? This reminds me of an anecdote relating how astronomers used to combine measurements before Gauss came along with least squares. Namely, they'd pick the measurement that seemed most right to them, and discard the rest. Averages just weren't a thing yet3. Of course, we all know in most cases, averages work well.

I'm a firm supportor of computers augmenting human doctors. Computers ('computers' is a placeholder for statistics- and machine learning-based methods tuned on massive data sets and regularized by our best medical science) are just better at a lot of things compared to doctors4. Doctors are better at other things: bedside manner, for one.

Of course, the real way of the future may be Quantified Self. I have very few numbers related to my health, beyond my weight over a three year period. Without an accurate (personal) baseline, most quantitative approaches to health will fail. But getting those baselines should become a lot easier (even automatic!) in the near future.

Here's hoping I live that long.

  1. As someone who hasn't been to a doctor in seven years, this is something to take note of.

  2. A new goal which I will probably never pursue: learn more about human anatomy and physiology.

  3. Think about that for a second. A basic tool that we now teach to middle schoolers for dealing with experiments just wasn't a thing people did until the 1700s or so. Humanities progress blows my mind sometimes.

  4. To the doctor at the bar who said, "I don't need math! I'm a doctor!": I am very sorry that your job will soon be taken by Hal.