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Why your doctor should know where you have lived

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Genes and how you live are important to good health—but where you live is also critical, and its importance has been overlooked in the past. At the TED MED conference yesterday, Bill Davenhall, global marketing manager, health and human services solutions at ESRI, a geographic information system developer, made a compelling plea to add a history of places to medical information that doctors review. “TED” is for technology, entertainment, design; the conference runs from October 27 through 30 at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.

Davenhall had suffered a heart attack that seemed inexplicable given his past health history—until he matched up the risk factors in places where he’d lived in the past. He had lived in several areas that had environmental factors associated with heart disease. Such a history could be compiled from cell-phone tracking data and added to other patient information for doctors to use. Alana B. Alias Cornfeld provides further details in her excellent Huffington Post blog.





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  1. 1. sparcboy 10:01 am 10/28/2009

    If the doctor wants to know where I’ve lived, he/she can ask me.
    My cell phone records are none of his/her business.
    And they’re are certainly none of Davenhall’s or ESRI’s business.

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  2. 2. quincykim 1:42 pm 10/28/2009

    It seems unlikely that all, or even most, of Davenhall’s residence history came from his cell phone. How then does one leap to the conclusion that cell phone data is all that useful? I agree with the prior post that this kind of information is best supplied by the patient, not a gigantic, mostly irrelevant and highly private database of people’s travels.

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  3. 3. David Maples 2:59 pm 10/28/2009

    "environmental factors associated with heart disease"? What are these factors? I would like to avoid them. Adding to this information to the article would make it interesting and informative. Big Brother does not need to track my cell phone use, even if he is wearing a white lab coat.

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  4. 4. Valdensule 4:27 pm 10/28/2009

    Sorry folks, If you were worth you stones you’d know. He already does.

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  5. 5. voiceofreason 9:06 pm 10/28/2009

    By my estimate, around one half billion people worldwide were killed by various government actions,inactions, or incompetencies in the 20th century. Clearly this is a public health problem of mammoth proportion, and unlikely to spontaneously resolve. Given this information I should think that a rational person would wish to remain perfectly anonymous rather than to submit to being tracked "for his own good" by any agency either public or private.

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  6. 6. hotblack 3:20 pm 10/29/2009

    "By my estimate, around one half billion people worldwide were killed by various government actions,inactions, or incompetencies in the 20th century."

    That’s nothing. Think of all the people killed by various industrial & corporate pursuits, medical malpractice, automobile crashes, booze, tobacco, the food industry, petty social melodrama, etc etc etc…

    Just think how much worse all our major problems would be due to overpopulation if everyone lived to be a hundred.

    …what were we talking about again…

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  7. 7. voiceofreason 6:26 pm 10/29/2009

    hotblack: I’m not sure from your post but perhaps you agree with me. See if this clarification helps. I assert that large powerful organizations are dangerous – a public health threat – and that the largest and most dangerous organizations of all are governmental. I’m not concerned with accidental deaths or deaths associated with voluntarily taken risks. Everybody has to die of something; its just that most people prefer not to be murdered or to have their whole region denied food imports. Things like that. You know, how Stalin starved all those pesky Ukrainians. I know, most libs think governments just hand out food stamps, but they are about equally likely to hand out bullets to the head. Again, why anyone would voluntarily surrender his anonymity and freedom of movement, both essential freedoms that could enable him to hide from danger, to relocate from an adverse environment, or to otherwise escape from oppression is just beyond me. But hey, somebody has to survive. I’m not gunning for a "Darwin Award", I’ll step aside for you. Enjoy.

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