Personality testing and healthcare

This opinion piece by Anna North in the New York Times talks about how medical treatment and disease prevention might be tailored according to a person’s personality type. It raises some interesting points about how personality relates to health and how that could be applied in medical practice.

One point surprised me somewhat; I was aware that some personality traits tend to change as people age, but I didn’t realize that anyone was talking seriously about changing personality traitsĀ  in a particular direction by therapy or medication. I’m a bit skeptical, but the prospect opens up some good questions (if they could be, should they be?).

I think the type of personalized medicine this article discusses is, in part, an attempt to get back something that we lost, along with all the incredible things we’ve gained with advances in medical science: long-standing personal relationships with the people who tend to your health. I’m not optimistic about how the use of personality analysis for treatment would work in practice, and the current medical system would have to change a great deal before it could replace the kind of personal knowledge that someone who has treated you for a while might have.

I can easily imagine taking a personality test at my doctor’s office and having the results disappear into my chart without leaving a trace. Other types of information might be usefully entered into a good automated system and used to trigger reminders or suggestions (genetic information in particular comes to mind), but knowledge of a personality type doesn’t seem simple enough to be used for that. At any rate, I’m not eager to see the results of trying to shoehorn a Big Five score into any kind of automated medical system. And I’m doubtful about how much it would affect real face-to-face interactions. Maybe I’m extrapolating incorrectly on the basis of my experience in rushed and/or disorganized doctor’s offices, though.