While precision medicine continues to gain steam nationwide, its success will hinge, in large part, on providers meeting patients on the patient’s terms, rather than the other way around, says Sam Hanna, a program director of healthcare informatics and analytics at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
“It’s about that patient wherever they are,” said Hanna, speaking May 17 at the Precision Medicine Summit in Washington, D.C. “In their autonomous car, in their home, having a phone in their pocket that measures how many steps they’ve taken … all of these things that provide that holistic view of that patient.”
In order to get precision medicine to “stick,” providers must ask patients what they want, and not just tell patients what they have, if at all, he said. Healthcare professionals must ensure patients understand what precision medicine is and what it means to them to build demand.
“Academics do a great job of publishing things in journals,” Hanna said. “The challenge is to get these things out to the public. If a patient knew what’s available to them, they will be asking for these things.”
Healthcare Providers Are Drowning in Data
Additionally, healthcare organizations must prioritize the protection of the data being created and used, while also ensuring appropriate and ethical use. Such efforts, however, are easier said than done, Hanna warned, especially with the high volume of unstructured data entering the mix.
While some organizations — Mayo Clinic and the Scripps Translational Science Institute, for instance — have already made many of the infrastructure changes necessary to handle the anticipated influx of information, many more providers have not and cannot.
“We don’t have the mechanisms, the computing power or the skill sets, in some cases, to address all this,” he said. “We have some amazing knowledge, in this room and beyond; we have some amazing tools and technologies, but only a fraction of our scientific and knowledge population actually knows what to do with it.”
5G Will Power Personalized Care
Implementation of 5G cellular networks will also be critical to precision medicine’s growth and expansion, Hanna said. A report published last fall by the University of California, Berkeley and Qualcomm said that 5G will be a “substantial enabler” of a new era of personalized healthcare by allowing organizations to leverage large amounts of patient-specific data they can use to develop predictive analytics.
Despite extensive work ensuring widespread use of electronic health records and the uptick in personal devices, the current lack of 5G limits the industry’s capabilities, Hanna said.
“We are talking a lot about IoT and connected devices and wearables that are starting to come to fruition,” he said. “But they’re not fully there because until we get 5G in place, it’s not going to be as pervasive.”