Gaming the Future

Would most people take a test to learn if they were going to get a disease, even if there was nothing they could do to prevent it?
August 16, 2011

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When it comes to our own health, we all worry about what ailments might strike us down the line. Will we get cancer and die at age 57? Or will we contract Alzheimer’s and have to deal with the implications of dementia when we’re 72?

Knowing the medical future could be valuable, and something that a majority of people would choose if given the option, according to an online survey conducted at Tufts Medical Center.

The survey gave 1,463 people the chance to take a new blood test and find out if they were going to get a variety of diseases—Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, prostate cancer or arthritis. Test accuracy could be imperfect or perfect. Respondents were told they would have to pay for the test out-of-pocket, and they wouldn’t be able to prevent any of the diseases they were predicted to get.

Photo: iStockGiven that, would they take the test, and how much would they be willing to pay?

Across all scenarios, the majority of people said they would be tested. Responses ranged from 70.4 percent for an imperfect test for Alzheimer’s to 88 percent for a perfectly accurate prostate cancer test. People were generally willing to pay on a scale, from $320 for an imperfect arthritis test to $622 for a perfect prostate cancer test.

Respondents who didn’t want even a free test were more likely to be older, female, to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and to engage in risk-reducing behaviors such as shunning cigarettes and using seat belts regularly.

While the scenarios in the survey were hypothetical, predictive tests for many diseases are not far off, according to Peter Neumann, the study’s lead author, who is a professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health at Tufts Medical Center.

The study appeared in Health Economics (PDF).

This story first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Tufts Medicine magazine.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.