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March 1st, 2011
04:38 PM ET

TEDMED: Making health info more 'Wired'

Thomas Goetz, the executive editor of  Wired Magazine, studied Renaissance poetry in college. Now, he's dedicated to coupling ideas from public health and information technology to help people make better decisions about their own well-being.

Goetz is the author of "The Decision Tree: Navigating the Future of Healthcare." The basic idea is that health care is a series of choices - for instance, choosing to quit smoking, trying a method to help you stop, and trying something else if it doesn't work. But often people lack access to information that would help them make good choices. The book's website has an interactive tool where you can build your own decision tree about topics such as weight loss and cancer risk.

After his talk about health care information and decisions at TEDMED in October, we chatted about health care and the future of journalism.

CNN: Has there been a time when you felt confused by information about your own health?

Goetz: Yes, actually, this stems out of my own experience: I went to the doctor’s office, and got a blood test and a general workup, and my doctor was very good and proactive and made sure I was sent a copy of test results directly to my home.

But when I got those test results, it wasn’t that I was intimidated or scared by the information; it was just really hard to understand what the numbers were trying to tell me. It’s all in this jargon that’s not meant for me. It’s not meant for the patient, it’s not meant the actual person being tested. It’s meant for the lab company and maybe the doctor.

When I looked at that result that I got from my doctor, I realized it’s not something we have to stand for, it’s not something we have to be satisfied with. We can actually engineer a solution.

At Wired, I was able to bring our art department to the task and get them on the case. [Goetz demonstrates the revamped model of test results in the video above]

CNN: Do you feel like there’s resistance to making this information more accessible?

Goetz: There’s always a status quo that’s resistant to change and in this case, and in this case it’s changing the way lab testing companies report results to the doctor. The idea of having to re-engineer the system and bring the patient into the equation, that would take work. So I can understand on one level why these companies may not want to do that.

But the upside, the opportunity here to actually make this information something that can help people change the way that they live every day, and the opportunity to make this go from a fallow resource to a rich and robust resource for helping people change their lives, that’s a huge opportunity… I hope that more people in the health care industry are out there spelunking for opportunities to basically rethink the way they’re presenting information and using information, and really capturing a lot more people in the process.

CNN: When it comes to journalism, are you more pro-internet or pro-print product?

Goetz: I’m pro-useful information, in whatever form that comes. So I think the internet is a great resource, a great immediate resource for a lot of people.I think the value of print and the value we try to maintain at Wired is to serve as a really effective filter and deliverer of information.

A lot of the quandary that newspapers face is that that information has been commoditized, that it's available quite easily and readily on the internet. That doesn’t mean that journalism is worthless. People need expert curation of information.

CNN: Will Wired still exist in printed form in the year 2050?

Goetz: I think there still will be print in 30, 40 years. I think it’s probably not going to be the main way people consume the medium. I think in 30, 40 years there will still be print a component to Wired and many magazines. It will probably be not the main component. It might be 5 or 10 percent of people want to pay a premium to get it in print and on paper, and trees will be so precious and we’ll revere them so much that we only take them down and turn them into paper pulp for rare exceptions.

But...as I say, it’s a great technology, it’s a great way deliver information. We’ll probably use digital technologies more prominently because they’ll be just simply so ubiquitous. Even the iPad, when you think about it, in 10 years, that iPad, which looks so amazing to us now, is going to look old and anachronistic and like a relic. And so, you can’t really envision what people are going to come up with in 10 years.

Even our best guesses, even a magazine like Wired, where we’ve always been accused of being way too far out, way too futuristic, even if you look at what we were predicting was going to happen… 10 years from now, 10 years ago, we were wrong. We were short of the mark. It’s way cooler than we even imagined. So I think that sense of progress and amazement will continue to happen.

TEDMED is an annual event that brings together dozens of luminaries from a variety of fields to "demonstrate the intersection and connections between all things medical and health care related: from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital." TEDMED 2010 took place from October 26 to 29 in San Diego, California.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.