How Precision Medicine is Radically Improving Healthcare

Do you have the cheating gene? Are you looking after your stomach bugs? Did your father suffer famine before puberty? The answer to these questions could change – even save –your life with the advent of precision medicine.

Orion Health has released a report ‘Introducing Precision Medicine’, about the practice of enabling personalised health care by capturing and analysing all the information that is relevant to maintaining a consumer’s wellbeing.

“Only 10% of an individual’s health is determined by their medical history, but currently that is all the information a doctor has access to,” says Orion Health CEO Ian McCrae.

“Precision medicine is the future of health. New Zealand can lead the world in this area,” says Ian McCrae, Orion Health CEO.

“More significant is the person’s genetic makeup which determines 30% of his or her health outcome. Information from ‘exogenous sources’, that is a person’s diet, living and social circumstances determines 60%. In total, 90% of the information required for specific, individual treatment is not being captured today, but that is changing rapidly with the introduction of precision medicine.”

Mr McCrae says there is a growing body of international research that is identifying and enabling the capture of data that is vital for the practice of the precision medicine. Today’s report considers four keys areas.

  • Genome mapping - finding out all the genetic material present in a human cell. That’s the information which determines the colour of your eyes, or hair, or how susceptible you may be to certain diseases. It can also, according to a Swedish study, determine if you have the genetic variation that makes you more susceptible to cheating on your partner.
  • It looks at the 100 trillion bugs that exist in our bodies and which are collectively known as the Human Microbiome. They outnumber human cells by a least three to one, but medical science is finding that they can be immensely beneficial, especially the bugs that reside in our stomachs.
  • The report discusses Epigenetics, which is how your genetic make-up can be altered by external events that are experienced by your parents and grandparents. In one study it was found that men whose grandfather’s experienced famine before they reached puberty were less likely to develop heart disease or diabetes.
  • Lastly, there is the role of fitness apps and devices in contributing to a consumer’s ongoing wellness. Information from the apps that track fitness and sleep patterns will soon feed directly into an electronic patient record, and provide doctors with a richer understanding of an individual’s health and wellbeing.

Mr McCrae says that precision medicine – with its focus on keeping people healthy and out of hospital for as long as possible – makes good economic sense.

“As governments around the world grapple with the rising cost of healthcare driven by an ageing population, they are realising the importance of precision medicine. U.S. President Barak Obama has launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, while in Britain they have begun the 100,000 Genomes Project,” Mr McCrae says.

“In New Zealand we have announced the Precision Driven Health research programme. Orion Health is a founding participant, along with Waitemata District Health Board and the University of Auckland, with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment,” he says.

“We are excited to be part of this $38 million public-private venture, which we believe will position New Zealand as a global leader in precision medicine. It is an emerging, but exciting field. We are indeed on the cusp of a medical revolution.”

To find out more about precision medicine, download a copy of the report here.

Mr McCrae will be speaking about precision medicine and how it is enabled by health information systems at the SuperTech conference in Auckland on Thursday 17 March.

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