It’s an exciting time for us all. Let me explain.
Odds are you own a smartphone.
Like many, you might use a Fitbit.
Perhaps you even have a smart scale and other useful devices that track your progress toward health-driven goals.
Have you ever considered how all that data could be used? Not just by you in your personal health journey, but by researchers and clinicians in an effort to deliver more precise, more effective care?
The fact is, our lives are increasingly measured; the results immediately digitised. Our personal horde of data is continuously growing thanks to our smartphones, wearable biometric devices, smart scales, and all sorts of connected devices. And, this doesn’t even consider the massive data files added to our personal data sets thanks to the genetic mapping and microbiome tests now breaking into the mainstream. With wearables growing in popularity and genetic testing companies starting to thrive, the path towards precision medicine looks more like a super-highway.
Science and medicine are constantly identifying more and more ways to use data to drive ever more personalised and effective care. It’s no surprise, considering the amount of personal data available for analysis and decision support. And, that data continues to get deeper and richer with every wearable device and test that comes to market. This has allowed people to identify risks and take steps to prevent specific diseases, sometimes before the signs may even be visible. For example, when actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie learned of mutations in her BRCA genes—often an indication of certain cancers—she famously took preventative measures to decrease her risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
Every day, science teaches us more about what our genes do and how they interact with our lifestyle, history, and other genetic factors. This makes DNA mapping services—like 23andMe and Ancestry DNA—increasingly relevant to a person’s future health and well-being. In other words, it’s no longer just about addressing that simple family history curiosity.
With expanding personal health data sets, care providers increasingly need to alter the way they have traditionally provided care. For example, at one time, physicians were reaching straight for their prescription pads upon finding that a patient was beginning to experience elevated blood pressure. Today, a review of ranges of genetic factors and lifestyle data can quickly determine if lifestyle modification is the best choice, or if one specific drug from a group of similar medications is best tailored to the needs and makeup of that individual patient. This new reliance on precise data promises to offer a better outcome in any specific case. It should be no surprise that increasingly, an individual’s healthcare is driven by more specific personal information than any other time in history.
So how can we make the most of this data? Legislation has already been passed to prioritise research to do just that. The 2009 HITECH Act is dedicating funding to advance the study of comparative effectiveness—the science of discovering which drugs work best for patients. The 2015 Obama’s Precision Medicine and the new 2016 Cancer Moonshot initiatives are defying the bound of innovation to use data to enable preventive and personalised medicine and ultimately cure cancer and other plaguing chronic diseases.
Wearables and genetic mapping are priming the market for precision medicine. With the growing power of big data analytics tools and constant expansion of healthcare IT, the dawn of precision medicine is no longer a dream. The time is now.
As these trends continue, our children’s and grandchildren’s version of medicine will be so personalised, so individualised that it would be unrecognisable to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Today, we are already enjoying some benefits of precision medicine. Imagine how we’ll be able to apply insights from research into your daily care.
Indeed…It’s an exciting time for us all.