Medicine has never been about pursuing a “cookie-cutter” approach. Rather, the intricate diagnostic process entails taking into consideration each patient’s specific needs, situation, and context when determining the best course of action to pursue.
This concept is being further elevated with the idea of “precision health.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes precision health in detail: “Your genes, behaviors (such as exercise and eating habits), and environment are all factors that affect your health. The goal of precision health is to protect your health by measuring these factors and acting on them. Interventions can be tailored to you, rather than using the same approach for everyone.”
The organization also makes a slight delineation between “precision medicine” and “precision health”: “Precision medicine, also called personalized medicine, helps your doctor find your unique disease risks and treatments that will work best for you. Precision health is broader—it includes precision medicine but also approaches that occur outside the setting of a doctor’s office or hospital, such as disease prevention and health promotion activities.”
But the overall idea is similar: predicting, preventing, and treating disease in a manner that is curated to the specific needs of patients.
The CDC even outlines certain key factors that enable precision health. Here are just a few on the organization’s extensive list:
- Family health history can help you know which diseases you are more likely to get
- Personal devices can keep track of your health information
- Social media can help public health workers track disease and communicate health information
- Genome sequencing can help find, track and control infectious disease outbreaks
- Tumor profiling [genetic testing of a tumor] can help your doctor choose the best treatment
- Pharmacogenomics can help your doctor prescribe the drug and dose most likely to work for you
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The concept is quietly yet rapidly gaining steam in healthcare.
As a part of a broader $1.5 billion campaign, Weill Cornell Medicine is determined to invest “in cutting-edge technology and new biomedical approaches—from genomics and data science to artificial intelligence and machine learning—that illuminate the precise origins of disease and the most optimal ways to personalize treatments. Harnessing advanced research techniques that explore the human genome, as well as observations about how demographics, social influences and lifestyle choices influence well-being, Weill Cornell Medicine will create a robust precision health enterprise that will holistically evaluate the individual factors that underlie disease development.”
The institution’s commitment to precision care stems from a desire to enable the best care possible for patients: “By understanding the drivers of disease, Weill Cornell Medicine physicians and scientists, including those based in the Meyer Cancer Center, and the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, will be able to discern each person’s individual health risk, create personalized prevention strategies and help avert the occurrence of severe disease.”
The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) is also pursuing a similar initiative after receiving a $29 million gift “to establish a center where scientists and physicians will work side by side to examine the role of genetics in disease and develop therapies that improve patients’ lives.”
The press release explains: “The gift creates the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Center for Precision Genomic Medicine. The new center will build on UCLA’s efforts in precision health to leverage large data sets and innovative genomic technologies such as CRISPR engineering to improve diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of genetic disorders. They include both rare diseases and more common illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and immune disorders, diseases of the eye and brain disorders such as autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”
Last year, I wrote about gene-editing therapy, CRISPR technology, and how it could potentially revolutionize healthcare, while also balancing and paying ode to some key ethical conundrums.
Indeed, personalized, data-driven, and curated therapeutics will likely be the future of patient care, especially given that there are now tools available to study and collate large amounts of data into usable metrics. Especially with the introduction of machine learning capabilities, the ability to learn from and harness data to make critical decisions has never been more accessible.
The key will be to balance this new concept and ensure the highest levels of ethical standards and patient safety, especially as it’s a relatively new frontier with regards to patient care. However, curated care and precision health, if made truly viable in a sustainable and ethical manner, may revolutionize healthcare delivery, given that it takes into consideration each individual’s needs as a means to curative therapy.
After all, healthcare is not about treating the disease, but rather about treating the patient.