Precision medicine, or personalized medicine as it is sometimes referred to, is a most significant and promising healthcare trend. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines precision medicine as an individualized plan that uses a patient's genetic makeup and their environment and lifestyle to deliver the right preventative advice or targeted disease treatment.

For example, precision medicine as it applies to cancer treatment might encompass:

  • testing a patient's cancer to analyze its specific features;
  • studying a patient's genetics to choose specific and appropriate meds that might work alone, or in tandem with other medications; and
  • doing individualized genetic testing to look for tumor markers.

The NIH has also started an ambitious research program designed to advance the study and applications involved in precision medicine, which can have positive ramifications for the future of medicine as a whole. The Precision Medicine Initiative is geared toward learning how genetics, environment, and lifestyle can help determine the best approach to prevent or treat disease.

Through the initiative, for example, scientists at the National Cancer Institute hope that further study of the disease's genetics and biology will lead to better life-extending treatments. The initiative's All of Us Research Program is also using the health data of approximately 1 million volunteers to study many other diseases, and improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment stats.

Precision medicine has such a huge range of potential applications that the sky is literally the limit in terms of how it may help doctors treat virtually any disease in the future.

But right now, there are several exciting developments that you, as a physician or hospital administrator, should know about and investigate further to see if they may be appropriate for your patients' needs. These developments include:

New drug therapy that zooms in on underlying causes.

The Centers for Disease Control has highlighted the fact that that a new small molecule drug, ivacaftor, is improving the outcomes of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients by closely targeting the specifics of why an individual patient has CF, as opposed to treating its symptoms.

Early administration of this therapy has greatly reduced the need for inpatient hospital stays and allowed patients to improve.

Cascade screening.

The CDC has also highlighted cascade screening, which means a healthcare team contacts the family members of patients with a range of conditions to interview them about and inform them about the hereditary implications of the illness they may all eventually deal with.

Then, patients who wish to be screened for genetic markers or a disease itself can do so. The information that doctors learn from a patient's relative can then be applied to treating the original patient. It's extremely important to take issues of consent and privacy into account in terms of this approach, but if done right, the benefits to patients and their families can be invaluable.

Easily accessible research information.

MD Anderson has set up a personalized care therapy resource website, through which any doctor can look up information on a diagnosed genetic marker and find cutting-edge info on clinical trials, disease mutations, and tumor profiling. Patients working with their doctors to better understand their conditions can use the website, too.

It's vitally important to keep up with precision medicine developments in your specialty fields and apply what is available for you as a physician or administrator right now. With precision medicine, you lengthen a patient's odds for a better outcome in so many potential ways. Just as important is that precision medicine can change the way your patients view their disease(s).