Warning: Do not read The Decision Tree unless you’re ready to make some kind of change in your life.

Thomas Goetz catalogs the recent advances (and setbacks) in medicine & personal health, but also maps out the possibilities for how things could get better. He does this so convincingly that you can’t believe it’s not already taking root: clear labeling on drugs & food, passive tracking of our exercise routines, open access to our health data.

There are enough lessons for self-improvement in the book that I found myself comparing it to What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but since Goetz focuses on the big picture (prevention, diagnosis, disease management) it is more like What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Long Life.

Unlike the pregnancy bible I read 10 years ago (and more than once threw across the room), Goetz doesn’t preach from a lofty whole-grain pulpit. He  doesn’t think we should ask people to do more, nor should we scold people for every mistake they have made, but rather we should give them tools to make better health choices.

For me, it sparked a renewed interest in tracking my own health. I’m not going all Quantified Self yet, but I am interested in a few key variables, like how far I run, my weight, and my cholesterol levels. And yep, I’m just writing things down, as Amy Tenderich recently wrote. That’s participatory medicine, too.

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with many of the companies and studies Goetz profiles in the book: the Framingham Heart Study, CureTogether, PatientsLikeMe, Nike+, 23andMe. I learned new things about each one and now have better talking points when I’m explaining Health 2.0 to newcomers. In fact, I got the feeling that this was a reason why Goetz wrote the book: for all those public-health nerds and personalized-medicine geeks who wish they could explain to people why it is just so awesome that we can calculate our risk for heart disease or cancer. You know how MDs are always asked for cocktail-party diagnoses? This book is for all the MPHs who stood nearby wishing that someone would ask them for on-the-spot health advice.

If I’ve sparked your interest in the book, check out the following:

Brian Ahier’s review: Data not drugs

Kent Bottles’s review: Check Lists & Decision Trees v. Spontaneity & Imagination

Short video introduction: The Argument for Better Health, in 3 Minutes & 53 Seconds

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