With all of the information now pulsing around us, it is easy to forget that "we don’t know what we don’t know." I constantly try to remind my clients in the health care sector of this simple fact. A case-in-point is the extraordinary strides being made in the field of genomics — which, due to accelerating gene sequencing technologies, are occurring on a daily basis.
One the bigger implications of these cascading discoveries is that they will likely fundamentally alter how we classify disease in the future. As a little historical reference, it is useful to consider that in 1850 there were only 140 categories of disease. In 1993, the last time the World Health Organization undertook the classification of all diseases, there were some 12,000. The next classification isn’t expected to occur until 2015, but it is not hard to imagine that the number of diseases — and how they will be classified — will increase even more.
For a great primer on this possibility, I’d encourage you to read this article, Redefining Disease, Genes and All. I especially liked this quote at the end of the article. One doctor, responding to the fact that as late as 1909 one of the leading causes of death was listed as "visitation of God," he went on to offer this warning: "Imagine how they are going to to be laughing at us," he said, "not 100 years from now, but even 50 or 20 years now."
As a result of accelerating technological change, it is certain that "we don’t know what we don’t know" about a wide variety of diseases. To stay open to the possibility that these diseases might soon be both classified and treated differently , it is helpful to keep in mind the possibility that if you don’t change your views you will likely be widely mocked at some point in the future — and it might even be sooner than you expect.