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Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Information in the Information Age?

| December 04, 2018
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At long last!!! Here is the much-anticipated prequel to my last blog on genome mapping. I feel this is a rather timely blog with the recent news of a doctor in China successfully altering the DNA sequencing of twin embryos (which may be a discussion for a later day). There is already much talk in the literary world surrounding this piece, so I will not keep you in suspense any longer.

Our world today is full of information on an infinite number of topics. All you need to do is Google any topic and VOILA (that’s French because us older millennials like to show off our multi-lingual abilities and yes, 54 is an older millennial in my world) you are an instant expert. I wonder though in this age of endless information will we ever reach a point where there is too much information? Will there ever be a point in time where we could know more, but choose not to? This point already exists in all our lives today, as we choose what TV shows we do or do not watch, what news we do or do not read, what topics we do or do not research on the Internet, etc. What if, however, you had to make that decision about your body/health? If you could know everything about your body, would you want to? I know many of you will automatically say yes, but I would challenge you with, do you really? As I write this the Christmas season is in full swing, so I will approach this topic while tipping my hat to Dickens’ Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol. So let’s take a quick look at the ghost of information past.

There are many benign and germane tests such as 23 and Me, AncestryDNA and such providing you a treasure trove of information on much of our pasts. These tests will give us information on hereditary pasts, physical traits, wellness, etc., but they provide little predictive information on our overall health/body in the future (outside of some minimal testing). So, I view these as the ghost of information past and as an insurance agent always looking at how an underwriter might view things, I see this ghost as not too scary. Now let’s move on to some scarier ghosts.

The ghost of information present is much more of a concern to me as an insurance agent. This ghost is quite scary as it will tell you (and the insurance company) all the things currently impacting your health.

Some of these ailments you will be aware of, but there are others you and your doctor may not be aware of. The ones you were unaware of are the ones of concern to me. As I say this my mind immediately goes to full body scans, virtual physicals, etc. I am almost certain if I went for a full body scan, I will not hear, “Wow, Mr. Beck you're the picture of health!”

Most likely I will hear, “Mr. Beck you are in average health, but…” and then there will be a litany of things wrong or concerning with my body/overall health. These are what the insurance company would like to have resolved prior to entering into an insurance contract with you. Yet when many of these items are discussed with your doctor, he/she will inevitably tell you the condition(s) will just be monitored and treated in the future, if needed.

Nothing rankles an insurance company more than the unknown and this is very much that, note the last two words in the preceding sentence, if needed. The insurance company must somehow determine what this means as they make a decision that cannot be changed in the future even though your condition may change. This is a problem for the underwriter to determine how concerned they should be and will ultimately pose a problem for you as they will most likely assess a higher premium on your contract to account for the perception of the increased risk you present. Now if that’s not scary enough we have the ghost of the information future.

The ghost of information future in my mind will take the form of genetic testing. I was talking with a good friend of mine the other evening and was told they were undergoing a full genetic testing panel. I asked what this meant exactly as I was confused as to what this test will tell you.

I was told a simple blood test would test their genetic predisposition to many cancers and other diseases with a high familial correlation. Now here comes the rub: these tests will give you information that you have a gene sequencing putting you at higher risk for certain cancers/diseases. So, do you want to know all this information?

Say for instance you have the BRCA testing and it comes back positive. So now you know you have a higher probability of getting breast cancer, the question you must immediately ask is, “What next”? Do you opt for double mastectomy (think Angelina Jolie) and reduce the risk? Do you live your life as normal, but fret every year as you stress about the results of your annual mammogram?

The answer to what to do next is deeply personal and will be different for every individual. However, what won’t be different will be the insurance company’s reaction to this data. Think about the preceding ghost and then take this one to an exponential factor. The insurance company must do something with this predictive analysis they don’t have enough actuarial data on to assess this risk, but they do know you represent an increased risk to them, but the degree of the increased risk remains to be seen (see the previous blog on Genome Mapping).

So, I go back to my original thought: is there a point where there will just be too much information in this information age? I am not sure what I would do if faced with this choice, but I will tell you this: this insurance agent will only visit these ghosts when left with no other choice. Stay tuned for more on this topic. Take care and happy holidays to you and your families.

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