Many long-term care facilities, large private practices, and health care networks have welcomed the concept of precision medicine.
But ask the average person what precision medicine is and you might get more than a few blank stares. In fact, according to a survey of Americans by the Personalized Medicine Coalition, 66% of respondents had never heard of precision medicine.1
However, more than 80% of those surveyed wanted to learn more about it.
What exactly is precision medicine? It’s a type of cutting-edge treatment plan in which your therapy is based on factors such as age, comorbidity, current medications, and genetics.2 (The term is often used interchangeably with personalized medicine.)
Precision medicine can be used to uncover more appropriate drugs to take for a specific treatment, or to determine whether you’re at risk of having certain adverse reactions to a particular drug. It can even reveal your risk factors for developing certain illnesses later in life.
One of the top takeaways from the survey mentioned above? Respondents understood the health benefits of knowing which drugs worked before clinicians prescribed them, says Christopher Wells, senior vice president of public affairs at the Personalized Medicine Coalition. “Many of us have had the difficult experience of trying multiple medications before finding one that works,” he says. “For this reason, a personalized approach often resonates.”
But it’s not just about finding the right medications. “Regarding use cases, the survey results showed respondents were most excited about the potential of personalized medicine to aid in prevention and early detection,” says Wells.
Survey respondents were also interested in how precision medicine could help them avoid adverse reactions, as well as how it could help drug companies develop new medicines based on people’s genetic information.
Here are four ways that precision medicine could help you live a healthier life.
1. Precision medicine can help identify if you’re at risk of an illness — before you even know it.
By identifying patients who are at risk of certain diseases early on, everybody wins. A recent study on aging suggested that getting in front of a disease diagnosis before symptoms emerge doesn’t just have implications for the individual patient or the doctor creating the treatment plan.3 It has implications for the entire population.
The researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine also noted that by using data science and artificial intelligence to discover digital biomarkers before symptoms emerge, precision medicine could positively change the entire health care system. Doctors would have a way to predict illnesses before they happen — offering them the ability to potentially prevent certain diseases altogether. Of course many diseases (such as diabetes or depression) are a combination of genetic and environmental factors, so understanding genetics will only get clinicians so far.
Once medical researchers learn more about individual patients, they can identify at-risk groups with similar genetic or molecular profiles.
2. Precision medicine can reduce your potential for having an adverse drug event (ADE).
Precision medicine isn’t just some hypothetical topic; it has already had a major impact on the healthcare world — specifically when it comes to identifying the right tests and treatments for certain cancer patients.4
Precision medicine has been used in making treatment decisions for colorectal, breast, and lung cancer, among others. The goal of precision medicine is to find the types of treatments that cause the fewest number of adverse drug events (ADEs).5 This is done through what is called pharmacogenetic testing. (You might also see it called pharmacogenomic or PGx testing.)
However, adverse responses to treatment aren’t just an issue for cancer patients. PGx tests can also help reduce the prevalence of ADEs among patients suffering from a range of mental health disorders and even heart disease. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, ADEs lead to nearly 700,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 hospitalizations per year (nearly 5% of hospitalized patients experience ADEs as well, making them one of the most common inpatient errors).⁵ ADEs can affect everyone from babies and children to adolescents and adults.6
That said, ADEs impact older adults — those 65 or older — more than any other age group, because as people get older, they tend to get prescribed more medications. And the more complex your medication regimen is, the more likely it is that an ADE can take place.7
Thanks to precision medicine, though, doctors have been able to identify certain drugs that may interact negatively with other drugs and pinpoint genes that may cause you to have an adverse reaction to certain drugs.
3. Precision medicine helps keep you fiscally healthy too.8,9
It might seem counterintuitive to think that precision medicine, which involves state-of-the-art healthcare tools such as DNA testing and high-tech diagnostic tests, would lower health care costs.
But think of it this way: Investing in patient health before it becomes a problem can save the entire system money in the long run.
The ability to discover diseases through digital biomarkers before clinical symptoms emerge can be a game changer. It can help prevent the costs associated with discovering a disease in the late stages.
Also, healthcare costs may decrease dramatically if patients aren’t prescribed medications using the trial-and-error method.10 For example, if a doctor knows that a patient might have an adverse reaction to a certain drug based on their genes, that could help save the patient a trip to the emergency room — or, worse yet, the intensive care unit. With that reduction in prescriptions and potential ADEs, a patient would need to visit their doctor less and make fewer follow-up appointments (see the Cost & Adherence study, for example).
Precision medicine for everyone.
For the past four years and counting, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been funding a research program called All of Us, with the goal of gathering information from a million Americans to build a diverse health care database with participants from a range of backgrounds.11
Today, NIH researchers are using the pillars of precision medicine — determining how your genes, lifestyle, and environment can affect your overall health — to focus on the likelihood of getting specific diseases, as well as how to identify more effective treatments. They’re pulling data from a diverse population of Americans from a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to make sure the program’s results work for as many people as possible.
Looking forward to the future, precision medicine could include a wider use of patients’ molecular and genetic information in routine medical care; an improvement in the ability to predict which treatments will work best for patients; and improvements in doctors’ ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat a range of diseases.12
Think about it this way: Someday soon, your doctor might look at your chart and your genetic and molecular data at your annual checkup.
Interested in learning more about how precision medicine could help your provider personalize your prescription? Learn more about Genomind’s pharmacogenetic testing and precision health services today.
- Number of people aware of personalized medicine: Public Perspectives on Personalized Medicine (2018)
- Definition of precision medicine: What is precision medicine? (2020)
- Study on aging/diagnosis: Precision Aging: Applying Precision Medicine to the Field of Cognitive Aging (2019)
- Precision medicine in cancer treatment: Precision or Personalized Medicine (2022)
- Stats on ADEs: Medication Errors and Adverse Drug Events (2019)
- ADEs in children: Adverse Drug Events in Children (2020)
- Statistics on how ADEs affect older adults: Adverse Drug Events in Adults (2017)
- Precision medicine could drive health care costs down: The economic case for precision medicine (2018)
- Getting ahead of disease symptoms: Aging Well: Using Precision to Drive Down Costs and Increase Health Quality (2019)
- Trial-and-error method: From ‘trial and error’ to a targeted approach to medications (2017)
- All of Us initiative: National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Initiative
- Benefits of precision medicine: Precision health: Improving health for each of us and all of us (2020)