Diseases are influenced by various factors that an individual is subjected to, some of which are general factors while others are specific individual factors. Although the former is more or less studied, the latter is not. Understanding individual factors can help us treat disease more effectively or even prevent diseases more effectively.
This method of tailoring treatment to an individual based on specific factors the individual is subjected to is called Precision Medicine.
Thanks to the rapid advances in the field of genetic mapping. We can 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. But the most interesting is a general idea the concept presents, which is to cater treatment to patients not on the basis of general understanding of diseases or symptoms it exhibit but to the specific need of the patient and critical factors.
The idea of precision medicine is relatively new but holds great promise, 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 any better how one kind of treatment will affect a particular individual and their condition. With precision, medical providers can cater customized treatment methodology for each of their patients improving the chances of cure.
2. Preventive Care:
When the genetic screening process collects enough samples, the results can be used to diagnose genetically caused diseases and even prevent diseases by understanding the genetic risk of an individual rather than reacting to an illness. The presence or absence of some gene can cause diseases, studying these different genes can help in protecting us 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 has 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 pattern 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 looks simple enough. 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 deep 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 the precision medicine to reach epitome efficiency, a lot of genomic data must be collected from a significant number of people from population representing each and every segmentation. If and when such a massive data is collected it is legally unclear who own the data. The government does not own the data, FDA has blocked individuals from accessing their own genetic information from companies. The problem here is that whoever owns the data will be responsible for it and it could be expensive.
3. The relevance of the Information:
According to 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 disorder or even over-representation of some other type of disorder is highly likely.
4. Healthcare Cost:
Ideally, precision medicine can eliminate repeated efforts, readmission and help take preventive measures against disease, ergo stopping the hemorrhage of funds in healthcare. But to reach this stage, it requires massive investment in infrastructure for collecting, storing and sharing of information and also security infrastructure to protect the data and other add-on expenses could prove to be a burden.
Precision medicine is basically using new technologies and techniques to sort and identify the reasons for health and illness to treat, and prevent illness and to promote health. It holds great hopes but is weighed down by drawbacks.
The promise it holds are too great for these drawbacks to holding it back long, healthcare providers, government and IT professionals should work together to develop a solution to overcome these short-term disadvantages.