Making the connection between personalized care and precision medicine

by Robert Wah, M.D.

Over the past several weeks, my colleagues and I at DXC Technology have spoken about the landmark All of Us Research Program that will seek to gather samples from a million or more participants across a broad spectrum of the U.S. population. We’re very excited to be involved in this project, using technology for participant engagement, which will go on for many decades with the objective of gaining deep insights into many health conditions.

An important, if perhaps slightly peripheral consideration, is that of personalized medicine. The objective with precision medicine is to take a scientific approach to tailoring medical treatments to each patient. Personalized medicine has a complementary role, in that its focus is to engage with and deliver information to the patient in ways that enable that person to take the right next step.

I often refer to personalized medicine as the consumerization of care, by which I mean the ability to provide actionable information to patients or consumers in ways that enable them to improve their own health. To reach that point, the healthcare industry needs to learn from other industries, in particular retail, how to personalize or consumerize care. There’s probably no better instructor than Amazon, which has led the way in personalizing its interaction with the consumer. When we carry out a transaction with Amazon, they gather data about us and use that information to guide our purchasing decisions.

In healthcare, we don’t necessarily want the same level of intrusiveness that retailers are known for — such as showing you the last thing you bought or reminding you to restock a particular item. But if healthcare knew as much about patients as Amazon does about consumers, that information could be directed to help guide the patient toward the right action required to get or stay healthy.

From the imagined to the possible

The technology needed to make that transition to the consumerization of care is becoming available, aided by knowledge gained from other industries. One technology used in other industries is service management. It’s now possible to take data about patients from many sources — both clinical and nonclinical — to gain insights into a person’s life and then, with technology as the enabler, provide actionable insights on what that patient needs to do to better manage his or her health.

Moreover, the technology not only creates this connection to the patient but makes it possible to use fairly low-cost resources to reach the patient. Consider patients with a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Those individuals will get advice when they visit their doctor or nurse practitioner. But what happens between those visits? Using lower cost solutions, care providers can ensure that their patients have the information they need to keep them healthy or improve their health outcomes without requiring an office visit.

The benefit of this type of engagement is threefold. First, it helps to increase the engagement between the practitioner and the patient, which can be difficult to achieve between visits. That interaction between the healthcare or caregiving system and the patient is generally well-received by the patient, who wants information on how to manage his or her health. In effect, therefore, the second benefit is improved patient or consumer satisfaction scores — a key consideration in the value-based care system. And third, healthier patients result in less expense to the healthcare system overall. Simply put, personalized medicine enabled by technology leads to healthier, happier patients and more savings for the healthcare system.

If we then take precision medicine and the groundbreaking All of Us Research Program and apply personalized medicine to what we learn, we can make further advances. Another unique aspect of the program, for example, is the intent of the National Institutes of Health to engage the participants in the system by potentially giving them back some of the information that the research process gathers. That has the potential to further the objective of both precision and personalized medicine and deliver a powerful and exciting future in healthcare.

In this new healthcare environment, one in which patients are seen as consumers involved in their own care, service management will become a greater priority. The healthcare system will need to find ways of enhancing the user experience and speed up actionable responses, and that means modernizing workflows and processes with scalable innovations.

Robert Wah headshotDr. Robert Wah is DXC’s Global Chief Medical Officer and Former President of the American Medical Association (AMA). Since 2007, Dr. Wah has been routinely ranked in Modern Healthcare magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Physician Executives.” At the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Wah served as the first Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT. He set up the ONC (Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT) and was Chief Operating Officer. Dr. Wah did his training at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda and Harvard Medical School and holds two board certifications. He is also a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. Dr. Wah currently sees patients, does surgery and trains residents and fellows at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and Walter Reed National Medical Center at Bethesda, Maryland.

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