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One day I walked into one of those new-fangled primary care clinics that promised to “remix” primary care with a new membership-based primary care and a wellness ecosystem that focused on everything that keeps you healthy. The concept was enticing and I was excited to see how health care could be something more than the sick care I’d received previously.
On my first visit, I was disappointed when I realized we still have a ways to go to provide personalized medicine. The wellness coach (they didn’t call them nurses or MAs) asked me questions that weren’t relevant to me and so she never discovered my real health issues. Little harm was done from the misguided questions, but this interaction illustrated why personalized medicine was so important. With the right data, the wellness coach could have discovered my true health issues. Personalized medicine done right can change the patient experience, lower costs, and improve physician satisfaction.
What is personalized medicine? It’s tailoring the medical decisions, practices, interventions, and treatments to the individual patient based on their predicted response or risk of disease. Said another way, personalized medicine is taking a patient’s health data and using it to treat them like an individual with unique health needs.
As we move into the world of personalized medicine, here are four things every organization should work on to make sure they’re prepared:
Interoperability and Data Sharing
If you don’t have the data, personalized medicine is not possible. No one organization is going to have a monopoly on patients’ health data and so by necessity we’re going to have to share data with each other if we want to optimize the patient experience in a personalized manner. This is true between healthcare organizations, but also requires us to accept patient generated data from consumer health devices. Data sharing and interoperability is no longer a technical challenge. It’s only a challenge of will and desires. The desire for personalized medicine will drive many organizations to finally invest in and implement data sharing between healthcare organizations and with patients.
While data is important, most healthcare professionals will say that they already have too much data and the amount of data they have is only going to grow. This is why having advanced analytics capabilities is going to be essential for every healthcare organization. Computers can quickly sort through the wave of data and evaluate and present only those pieces of data or insights which might be useful to a healthcare provider. In fact, processing speeds have reached the point where not only can it evaluate the data in general, but the right analytics can take into account how the data compares to others and how it fits into your own personal health context. For example, the heart rate for a professional athlete will be very different than a desk worker who rarely works out. Personalized medicine will understand this and analyze the health data based on the person’s unique characteristics. These types of personalized analytics capabilities are essential to making medicine personal without burning out healthcare providers with false alarms and irrelevant data.
At the core of personalized medicine is trust. If patients or doctors don’t trust the data, they won’t use it. If they don’t trust the analytics, they won’t use them. The easiest way to lose patients and doctors’ trust in technology is to not properly secure your systems. When a breach occurs, you instantly lose patients and doctors’ trust. Was my data breached? Were the analytics altered? Was the data modified? If they’re incompetent with security, are they also incompetent with their medicine? This is why every organization should invest time, money and effort in ensuring their organizations are properly secured. Their patients trust depends on it and without trust, personalized medicine will never reach its potential.
While we would like to think that every healthcare provider is ready for personalized medicine, they are not. They have to be trained on what the system can and can’t provide. It is nice to think that we can just provide the data to the doctor and they will know what to do with that data. In many cases they do know what to do. However, personalized medicine is imperfect and doctors need to be trained to have a healthy skepticism about the personalized data that’s being presented to them. As our technology systems become more personalized, we have to avoid doctors becoming robotic and relying too heavily on technology. This is where good training on how to use personalized medicine data is so important.
Working on these four areas will help every healthcare organization better prepare for the personalized medicine future. However, if we are not careful any one of these four things could also get in the way and block personalized medicine from happening as quickly. Those organizations that get out of the way by sharing data, implementing analytics, ensuring proper security, and properly training their staff will be in a great position to set themselves apart from competing organizations.