Diseases are influenced by various factors that an individual is subjected to, some of which are general factors while others are specific individual factors. While the former is studied in great detail, the latter is not. Understanding individual factors can help us treat disease more effectively or even prevent diseases more altogether.
This method of tailoring treatment to an individual based on specific personalized factors is called Precision Medicine.
Thanks to the rapid advances in the field of genetic mapping, we now understand the influence genes hold on a person’s health and well-being, opening the possibilities for discovering a cure for chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes. However, the most interesting aspect the concept presents is to cater treatment to patients not on the basis of general understanding of diseases or symptoms, but to the specific need of the patient and critical factors.
The idea of precision medicine is relatively new but holds great promise, and some of the potential advantages of precision medicine are as follows:
1. The efficiency of Care:
Precision medicine makes decisions based on individual specific factors that affect their health. Today, decision making regarding treatments is on the shoulders of the patients, as even doctors do not know how certain treatment will affect a particular individual. With precision, medical providers can cater customized treatment methodology for each of their patients, improving the probability of recovery.
2. Preventive Care:
When the genetic screening process collects enough samples, the results can be used to diagnose genetically caused diseases and even prevent such diseases by understanding the risk of an individual rather than simply reacting to an illness. The presence or absence of some genes can cause diseases, and by studying these variations we can protect ourselves from these diseases.
3. Limit Cost:
Targeted treatment on the basis of genetic mapping can reduce the cost of care with more informed treatment decisions and a greater chance of being effective. The cost will be potentially lower with the focus on preventive care rather than treatment of disease.
4. Population Health:
Studying genetic patterns in a population as a whole, and as sections can help in identifying causes for particular diseases and develop the treatment. Genetic study of sections of a population can predict a likelihood of diseases and early detection.
The advantages listed above make Precision Medicine seem like an attractive investment. These are fields already identified and destined to be addressed by other programs and ideas, but the effect precision medicine can have on healthcare is intense and far-reaching.
But, the skeptics who are not convinced with this plan point out that it has the following drawbacks.
1. Infrastructure Requirements:
Precision medicine has the potential to deeply impact healthcare, but for that, it requires massive infrastructure investments and time to implement. To implement precision medicine, fundamental changes must be made to infrastructure and mechanism of data collection, storage, and sharing. The federal fund earmarked for the development of precision medicine will not cover the requirement and the question of who will have to spend the rest of the fund (state or federal government, providers/patients or payers) is unclear.
2. Legal Problems:
For Precision Medicine to reach peak efficiency, a lot of genomic data must be collected from a large and diverse section of the population. If and when such a massive amount of data is collected, it is legally unclear who owns the data. The government does not own the data and the FDA has blocked individuals from accessing their own genetic information from companies. In addition to legal issues, the collection and storage of such large amounts of data bring privacy into question. As a result, the implementation of such a plan would definitely be met with significant pushback.
3. The relevance of the Information:
According to Former President Obama’s plan, data from 1 million volunteers will be collected for genomic research. The possibility of ‘missing out’ on certain sections of the population or inadequate samples of certain disorders or over-representation of other types of disorder is highly likely.
4. Healthcare Cost:
Ideally, precision medicine can eliminate repeated efforts, readmission and help take preventive measures against disease, stopping the hemorrhage of funds in healthcare. But to reach this stage, it requires massive investment in infrastructure for collecting, storing, and sharing this information.Investment must also be made to security infrastructure to protect the data and other add-on expenses could prove to be a burden.
Precision medicine uses new technologies and techniques to sort and identify the sources for various illnesses to treat, and prevent illness. It holds great hopes but is hampered by the many drawbacks.
The promises it holds are too great for these drawbacks to hold it back for long, and healthcare providers, government and IT professionals should work together to develop a solution to overcome these short-term disadvantages.