Precision Medicine: Treating Patients Based on Their DNA

There’s a new trend in healthcare known as precision medicine. Instead of relying on standard treatment methods, patients are treated based on a variety of factors, most notably their genes. Every patient is different, and, while one treatment method may work for one person, it may not work for another.

The idea of treating the whole patient instead of just their underlying condition is gaining momentum in the medical community, but precision medicine remains relatively new. More research needs to be done before this method reaches the mainstream. Learn more about precision medicine and how it can benefit your patients.

What Is Precision Medicine?

Traditional Western medicine has mainly focused on using the same method when treating specific diseases and illnesses, regardless of the individual patient. However, precision medicine takes the opposite approach. As opposed to prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, providers must consider a variety of factors for each patient, including individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle.

Once these factors have been assessed, providers will recommend the treatment method with the highest chances of success. This may include additional recommendations, such as changes to the person’s lifestyle, additional medications, and physical therapy.

It’s important to note that “precision” medicine is not the same as “personalized” medicine, although some use these two terms interchangeably. Instead of treating each patient individually, providers collect information on groups of patients based on their genes and other defining factors. Patients are then treated based on how relate to these predetermined categories. For example, if a patient is obese with a family history of liver cancer, they will be treated using similar methods as other patients that meet this description.

This form of medicine is based on large sums of data, including those from individual patients and the population at large. Genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors must be taken into consideration when treating patients, which requires large databases of information. Precision medicine utilizes what’s known as data analytics, helping providers pinpoint specific treatment methods based on what’s worked for similar groups of patients in the past.

Precision medicine has been around in one form or another for some time. Some examples include performing blood transfusions based on the patient’s blood type or prescribing eyeglasses according to the patient’s vision. However, these earlier iterations only scratch the surface of what precision medicine can do. This way of treating patients still has a long way to go before it can reach its full potential.

What Are the Benefits?

While precision medicine is still in its infancy, it has the potential to dramatically improve patient outcomes and satisfaction rates while reducing costs. Treating patients based on their history and genetic makeup can reduce the rate of medical errors and the number of unsuccessful treatment methods when administered properly.

Instead of using standard treatment methods with varying degrees of success, providers will only recommend treatment methods that have been backed up by data. This helps patients recover more quickly from various diseases and conditions without inflating the cost of care. Overall, precision medicine is designed to maximize the patient’s chances of success, thus reducing readmission rates and the average patient length of stay.

The Future of Precision Medicine

As promising as precision medicine can seem, several challenges remain. Precision medicine is based on data, which means providers and healthcare facilities need to start collecting and sharing more information about their patients and the success of various treatment methods. This can lead to privacy concerns as sensitive patient information moves from one facility to the next. With proper regulation, patients should be able to maintain their privacy when sharing important information with different providers and organizations.

Facilities also need to invest in data analytics software that can help them quickly make use of all this information when analyzing and recommending treatment to patients. Organizing and collecting all this information can be a rigorous process. Increasing access to precision medicine will require national support and buy-in from the federal government. Providers should be able to access this information regardless of their employer or the patient’s insurance provider. If this information is kept in silos, patients may lose access to precision medicine if they see a provider that’s outside of their network.

Under the Obama Administration, the White House developed what’s known as the Precision Medicine Initiative, which set aside millions of dollars in federal funding to explore this new area of medicine. Precision medicine has already helped patients around the country. As stated on the official Obama White House website, “Translating these successes to a larger scale will require a national effort. To push this effort forward, we’ll need all hands on deck, including patients, hospitals, industry, philanthropies, researchers, privacy experts, and others.”

Providers, advocates, administrators, researchers, and public officials can do their part to advance this important issue by advocating for precision medicine.

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