Defining Personalized Health Care

As a result of the announcement of the Precision Healthcare Initiative by President Obama at the end of January, innovative structures for improving healthcare are in the spotlight.  In the media, there has been a lot of conversation about healthcare in the United States and what kind of changes can be made to improve quality and access to care. Buzzword phrases like prospective healthcare, precision medicine and personalized medicine have been used interchangeably; however, they have distinct meanings. These terms share a common thread in that they promote individualized planning and treatment, but recognizing the differences between them and understanding related terms is important. This post seeks to remedy confusion and provide clarification.

Precision healthcare is primarily focused on improving health outcomes through genomics. Genome sequencing allows for better understanding of which genes or combination of genes lead to onset of diseases, and which genes can provide resiliency against diseases. Based on a multi-level analysis of genes and other data, precision healthcare allows physicians and pharmaceutical companies to strengthen their understanding of gene-environment interactions and understand how to treat particular diseases given a set of mutations Precision healthcare also emphasizes the importance of diagnostic testing, as this allows doctors to identify the best treatment for an individual’s particular disease. Precision medicine is already at work in treatment of cancer and fibromyalgia.

Personalized healthcare, which is the focus of this Center, rallies around four core tenets. Prospective healthcare promotes 4Ps: predictive, preventive, patient engagement, and personalized care. In integrating these four concepts, personalized healthcare creates a model that emphasizes long range planning rather than costly reactionary care. Chronic, preventable diseases make up the bulk of spending on American healthcare provision. Personalized healthcare seeks to remedy spending on chronic care by encouraging healthy behavior and planning. It emphasizes doctors spending more time with their patients, looking at their health history, and identifying disease risk early-on. The physician and patient work together to create a health plan, and the patient is expected to engage in his/her own health management. Studies using this more prospective approach at Duke have shown that this model improves health outcomes.

Personalized medicine falls under the umbrella of personalized healthcare but the terms are unique. Personalized medicine is rooted in therapies that are tailored to fit an individual based on their genetic, genomic, and clinical information. Armed with this information, accurate predictions can be made about a person’s vulnerability to particular diseases and understanding their responses. In addition, gene based therapies or interventions can be customized for the individual and their genetic susceptibilities. Despite these differences, personalized medicine and the broader personalized health care movement are upon us and has the potential to shift health care to a more proactive model rooted in preventive medicine and patient engagement.

Phoebe Long is a senior at Duke University and a research intern at Duke’s Center for Research on Personalized Health Care.

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