Medical profiling and online medicine: the ethics of 'personalised healthcare' in a consumer age


Published 12/10/2010

Personalised heathcare cover
DNA kit

Commercial companies are now offering people a ‘health MOT’ using body imaging technologies such as CT and MRI scans. They claim to look for early signs of conditions such as cancer and heart disease, and can cost more than £1000.

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The tests can put people’s minds at rest, or encourage them to seek treatment and make lifestyle changes. However, there are a number of potential downsides:

  • CT scans expose people to radiation, which can be harmful.
  • The results can be difficult to interpret.
  • MRI scans often pick up ‘abnormalities’ which are actually harmless, but which could lead to unnecessary anxiety and further invasive tests.
  • There is potential for misuse of personal health information.

The number of people using direct-to-consumer body imaging services and whether this is currently leading to any actual harm is not known.

We conclude

Companies that sell body imaging services as a health check should be regulated to ensure they are meeting standards of quality and safety.

Direct-to-consumer whole body CT imaging should be banned. Part-body CT scans should only take place if it is in the best interests of the customer.

Government websites should provide information about the risks and benefits of commercial body imaging, including the relevance for insurance.

Companies should voluntarily provide clear information on the limitations of direct-to-consumer body imaging, and what will happen to people’s data.

Doctors should receive training on giving advice to patients about direct-to-consumer body imaging services.