Good for the good god! Utils for the util throne!

MetaMed launch day

I said a few days ago that I would be a terrible businessman because my attempts to promote things tend to meander into attempts to steelman the case against them. So I will spare MetaMed the ordeal of having me try to advertise for them.

But: they are a company, they have a website at http://www.metamed.com, they do personalized medical research, and they are officially launching today.

(they’ve been doing things for a bunch of people already, so it’s not like they’re completely new, but so far it’s been mostly unofficial)

I am usually a couple of steps away from customers, so I can’t speak much about that end of things. But I have been getting to do some research and occasionally just listen in on meetings, and it has been so much fun to listen to people who have this ethos that difficult medical questions should be solveable, who don’t make stupid mistakes or take shortcuts trying to solve them, and who have enough time and money to give them the attention they deserve.

A couple of weeks ago we had our first journal club. It was an attempt to evaluate the efficacy of antioxidants and multivitamins against cardiovascular disease and cancer. We got a bunch of contradictory studies, threw them all together, and started generating hypotheses about why they might contradict each other so much. It kind of fizzled out before we came to any strong conclusions, but in a world where some hard-to-determine number which is not ninety percent of medical studies are wrong, it’s exactly the sort of thing that should be done (also, in the course of the discussion, “buy antioxidant supplements” went on and off my to do list several times; it’s currently off but I have no idea how long that will last).

Now there’s a discussion going on about the biochemicals in ginseng which I have yet to finish doing enough research on to participate in intelligently. But I’ve skimmed through what’s been said and what’s most fascinating to me is that no one has fallen into the standard error modes of “This is labelled as ‘alternative medicine’, therefore we know it sucks without investigating it” or “This is labelled as ‘alternative medicine’, therefore we know it’s great without thinking about it”, a seemingly basic feat of rationality which people nevertheless manage to miss 99% of the time.

There are already a couple of sites that aggregate medical information and try to pull a few tentative conclusions out of the maze of studies. UpToDate is a good one; so is emedicine and (to a degree that surprises even me) Wikipedia. But they all have their problems. UpToDate is very expensive and mostly aimed at doctors; Wikipedia is on average very good but high-variance and proooobably not the sort of thing you want to make life-and-death decisions based on; emedicine is nice but the more second (and third, and so on) opinions you can get the better. And none of them are guaranteed to have exactly what you want – for example, when I was looking into antioxidants, none of them really analyzed the important and controversial SUVIMAX study, which I really would have appreciated some good commentary on.

If MetaMed can supplement some of those with its own brand of rationalist medical analysis, it will be a good thing. If it can fill a slightly different niche by doing personalized medical research on issues other information sources might lack for people with a little more money to spend, it will be a very good thing. And Zvi, Alyssa, Vassar, Sarah, et al seem to have even more ambitious – some would say wildly ambitious – plans for it which I don’t know much about except that I can think of much worse groups of people to be setting the future direction of the health care industry.

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5 Responses to MetaMed launch day

  1. Andrew Rettek says:

    There’s a lot of exciting new work going on.

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  2. suntzuanime says:

    I take ginseng on a regular basis and I’d be really interested to know if it’s actually doing anything. If you find out, say something!

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  3. Sebastian says:

    I am finding your advocacy quite convincing, although, y’know, not that it’s terribly relevant, as I’m not a member of NICE, and am unlikely to go private for anything anytime soon.

    As an Englishman, I find the antioxidants question a bit cosmetic, but if you don’t naturally drink half a dozen cups of tea a day as a matter of course, jasmine green tea is particularly delicious, and may make the question of whether it’s good for you as irrelevant for thee as it is for me.

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