Welcome to the era of precision medicine — a new frontier in health care delivery with the promise of improving outcomes and extending lives.
Precision medicine is an individualized approach to achieving optimal health founded on the premise that our DNA, our environments and our lifestyle choices are the three major predictors of our health. The goal of precision medicine is to improve the efficacy of modern health care delivery by integrating these three factors as part of disease prevention and treatment. Personalized medicine, a related concept, refers to examining the signs, symptoms, evidence, and patient experience and preferences to guide medical decision-making.
The aims of precision medicine differ from those of personalized medicine. Whereas health care providers have always relied upon individual assessments to guide decision-making, the practice of precision medicine moves beyond personalizing care. Precision medicine capitalizes on new biotechnological resources and maximizes knowledge of multiple factors to ensure prevention, diagnosis and treatment all correspond with the individual’s genetic characteristics. For instance, doctors will not prescribe the same drug for individuals with the same disease, but instead will make a prognosis based on multiple determinants of health, including the patient’s behaviors, environment, socioeconomic status, diet and genetic report.
In the past two decades, scientists have enhanced our understanding of how genetic sequencing is related to our health, paving the way to new affordances in health care. One example is our ability to detect the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes associated with breast and ovarian cancers. Many home testing kits provide individuals with the ability to behold portions of their genomic sequencing and prepare for disease risks before any symptoms occur.
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In 2015 President Barack Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, encouraging the nation’s medical practitioners, public health experts and medical researchers to close the chasm between understanding the potential of precision medicine and conducting precision medicine in clinical environments. As a public health professional and researcher, I am both excited and daunted by the task of carrying out precision medicine in states like Kentucky, where public health challenges — such as high cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity rates — continue to oppress our population.
The revolutionary promise of precision medicine initiative is only attainable if this model of health care can be implemented effectively at the community level. Health care providers, researchers and public health workers are tasked to help create solutions to our current public health problems, as well as pave the way to a future of more precise health care delivery.
As a receiver of health care services, you can contribute by joining the precision health initiative. One million individuals are being recruited to contribute health information to the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. Consider contributing your genetic data, and talk to your doctor about how you can lead the way to the future.
Donna Arnett is the dean of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.