Backed up by the glamour of new biotechnologies such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing, personalised medicine – what I call "Me Medicine" – appears to its advocates as the inevitable and desirable way to go. Barack Obama, when still a US senator, declared that "in no area of research is the promise greater than in personalised medicine".
This trend towards Me Medicine is led by the US, but it is growing across the developed world.
In contrast, "We Medicine" – public-health programmes such as flu shots or childhood vaccination – is increasingly distrusted and vulnerable to austerity cuts. Yet historically this approach has produced the biggest increase in lifespan. Even today, countries with more social provision of healthcare and less individualistic attitudes have better health outcomes across all social classes.
Contrary to the claims of its proponents, the personalised approach hasn't yet delivered a paradigm shift in medicine. A 2012 Harris poll of 2760 US patients and physicians found that doctors had recommended personal genetic tests for only 4 per...