Good Enough Medicine

It’s big news for us to hear that experts are now recommending that exercise should be prescribed to cancer patients like any other medication. 

Though this is exciting in itself, the fact that this recent recommendation hasn’t been backed by the rigorous trials that has preceded other public announcements is very interesting. There is still plenty of research to be done here. For example, while we’re sure that exercise helps, we don’t know how. But that hasn’t stopped doctors and public health professionals from spreading the message: if it works, it works!

What we do know is:
• A recent study by Bath University has found that exercise increases the number of Natural Killer T-cells (a cell part of our immune system) by up to 10 times! It’s possible that exercise is beneficial to sickness (such as cancer) by boosting our immunity.
• Comprehensive research and perfect theories are no longer appropriate nor feasible in a fast-paced lifestyle. Patients don’t need - and often can’t afford – perfection. 

The delivery of timely therapies in the Western world (particularly in the cancer field) is hindered by academic bureaucracy, and walled empires, medical regulations and privacy laws. These are all valid concerns, but the medical field’s unwillingness to embrace more novel therapies without the backing of perfect trials is costing patients time and money. Loosening this, in combination with new technology, lower financial profit expectations and use of Big Data will assist in accelerating medical research. 

Clayten Christensen explores how the establishment will resist change in his classic business text “The Innovators Dilemma”, and its more recent off-shoot, "The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care". Intolerance of innovation persists despite it being far better that an organisation's own products or services disrupt them, rather than wait to be made irrelevant by upstart competitors.

The nature of medical research is changing. It might not happen overnight, but it is happening. The costs of researching, documenting and ‘proving’ the efficacy of medical therapies is too high and too slow. We always want “the best” but at what cost? Decades of time? Ten of millions of dollars? 

In some cases, we can’t afford to wait to know how or why things work. Sometimes, like exercise for cancer, they do. And that’s enough for doctors it seems. And it’s definitely enough for us.

With the rise of empowered patients like Intel's Bryce Olson, an evangelist of "Precision medicine", “Good enough medicine" is coming sooner than thought, despite the semantic conflict.