Precision Medicine: From Promise to Practice


Precision Medicine has been getting a lot of buzz in 2015 for good reason.

With the infusion of $215 million from President Obama’s 2016 Precision Medicine Initiative, Precision Medicine is poised to revolutionize the way healthcare is practiced today. If successful, it has the potential to completely transform medical research, treatments and outcomes for people who would ordinarily die from their diseases and conditions…not only decades from now, but even in the here and now.

To live up to the promise of Precision Medicine,  we need to move beyond headlines and begin developing the applications that will make precision medicine precise.

To live up to the promise of Precision Medicine,  we need to move beyond headlines and begin developing the applications that will make precision medicine precise.

This means shifting away from blanket approaches to customized healthcare solutions. It means instead of using the “average population” as the basis for treatments, medicine will  begin leveraging personalized treatment solutions. To do this, we will have to take a unique combination of personal factors into account – genomics, health and wellness device sensors, metabolism, environmental and patient generated data – to name just a few. Ultimately, this means that key players must embrace new technologies, patient engagement models, and forms of data discovery.

What it is going to take?

In order to be effective, precision medicine needs to capture, interpret and provide insights about the patient based on three kinds of data:

  • Genetic

  • Behavioral

  • Environmental

We know that individuals carry a wealth of genomic data that can help researchers. When paired with both passive and self-reported data about their lifestyle, habits, environment, travel, work and play, what emerges is a more complete picture, which can lead to  targeted, effective treatments for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

The mHealth Revolution and Patient-Powered Research – Are you Ready?

Capturing this data is key; Fortunately, technologies such as the smartphones, fitness trackers and wearable diagnostic devices are making this data accessible on a  scale, depth and accuracy level that researchers could never have predicted previously.  In fact, The Precision Medicine Initiative plans to rely heavily on mHealth integrations with mobile devices  for health tracking as a part of a planned long-term study of 1 million or more Americans.

Tools like the Apple Research Kit move patients into the driver’s seat, and offer clinicians the promise of better access to data at scale. In fact,patients are so comfortable with their devices, and so interested in gathering their own data, that Forbes healthcare expert David Shaywitzrecently called 2015 “The Year of the Participant”. Patients who volunteer for these studies will not only provide highly detailed data(e.g., biological, behavioral), but will also have access to their data to monitor their own health in real time.. Ultimately, this could lead to linking their data to  electronic health records, a key bridge to healthcare providers and payers.

However, the healthcare industry has been slow to embrace these technological advancements, and is lagging far behind their consumers from a digital perspective.  All players within the healthcare ecosystem must strive to embrace, integrate, and build cross-platform digital extensions immediately, in order to catch up with other industries, and reap the benefits that precision medicine is able to offer.

Incentives for getting it right and doing it now. 

Having the right information to make better decisions for and with patients, improving patient outcomes, treating individuals as unique, gathering richer, more precise data that could lead to breakthroughs, curing the incurable diseases — these are “well being” benefits we can expect to see with precision medicine.  

The promise of financial efficiency with precision medicine looms large. Adverse drug effects alone result in Medicare spending $3.5 billion yearly in unnecessary medical costs. As the entire ecosystem – payers, clinicians, health systems, and life sciences – undergoes rapid transformation in reimbursement models; data, treatment accuracy and efficacy will all become essential. Unlike previous methods, precision medicine could deliver on all three points. Clinicians will be able to provide quality metrics to payers; health systems will be better able to manage total cost and quality measures; and payers themselves will see better results and lowered costs.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says “there’s no better time than now” to “generate the scientific evidence necessary” to move precision medicine’s “individualized approach into everyday clinical practice.”

What Precise Applications willl you create?

The concept of precision medicine is, as you can see, fairly straightforward. The complexities lie in how you — as a clinician, health system, insurance provider or life sciences researcher — will use cutting edge technologies to move precision medicine forward.

Let your needs and the needs of the people you serve drive the creation of applications that will engage patients and deliver the data that could ultimately change the world.  

It starts now. With you.

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