We have long been hearing about a future in which technology and data will deliver experiences that are tailored to who we are along with our needs and desires. In the world of consumer goods, this personalization trend has decidedly taken shape. Today, everything from sneakers to advertisements are being customized at scale.
When it comes to medicine, we are also at a moment of mass customization. That is, we are seeing broad-scale successes in the interventions that are customized to the individual’s biological, environmental, and lifestyle attributes. Today, doctors are increasingly embracing precision medicine as they factor in each patient’s characteristics to diagnose, prevent, and treat diseases.
This targeted approach represents a radical departure from how medicine has traditionally been practiced, with doctors prescribing treatments designed for the average person or relying on trial and error. In the words of Private Medical founder Dr. Jordan Shlain: “There’s no evidence for evidence-based medicine when you’re dealing with an individual.” After all, the evidence we have for, say, 80 percent of the population may not translate to success for the other 20 percent. For instance, many traditional cancer drugs are only effective in a small fraction of patients because of differences in how drugs are metabolized by individuals and the exact genetic profile of their tumors.
Case study: precision medicine in action
Today, precision medicine is being used to treat a wide range of diseases, most prominently cancer. Doctors can draw on a variety of diagnostic tests – from biomarkers to genomic testing – to help identify those who are at high risk for certain conditions, and help them manage their risk through both early disease detection and monitoring the disease progression. Finally, precision medicine has made great strides in identifying treatments best suited to the patient across many conditions.
One of the most celebrated precision medicine cases here at Private Medical involves a then 38-year-old male who came to our practice as he was ready to start a family, sharing his concerns about two cases of gastrointestinal cancer in his family. His physician, Dr. Shlain, suggested a test designed by GRAIL that examines DNA in the bloodstream to detect various cancers. After this member tested positive for colon cancer, Dr. Shlain ordered a colonoscopy to eliminate any possibility of a false negative. The result? A tumor growth was detected.
Following a successful surgery, this member remains in good health today. Based on his family’s medical history, Dr. Shlain tailored interventions to the member to detect, diagnose, and treat his condition. If the member had waited another few years to have his colonoscopy at the recommended age of 45, it would have possibly been too late to treat the tumor effectively.
To learn more, listen to the companion panel discussion, New Healthcare Normal: Precision, Anywhere, Whole Person Healthcare.
However you dice it, precision medicine is poised to ignite the revolution that we need in healthcare. Among its notable successes, this strategy has improved the outcomes of patients afflicted with not only cancers but also neurological, lung, and heart diseases.
As health outcomes are improving with the growing adoption of precision medicine, financial ones are expected to get their due. The ability to prevent and detect disease early and cure them should serve to lower healthcare costs.
As we usher in a new year, precision medicine gives us hope in improving the efficacy of interventions as it recognizes what we’ve known for ages: two people with the same disease may have vastly different responses to a standard, textbook treatment. Welcome to the exciting frontier in the mass customization of medicine and watch this space as we bring you more innovations in precision medicine.