No two people are truly alike, but conventional medical practices often assume that what works for one patient will work equally well for another. The future of healthcare, however, is moving toward a more personalized form of medicine with the potential to make a huge difference, especially for patients suffering from conditions such as cancer or diabetes. In this article, we’ll discuss the major differences between conventional medicine and personalized precision medicine — and what they mean for the future of your healthcare.
Traditional Medicine: A One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Conventional medicinal practices involve developing drugs that treat the symptoms of a specific disease and testing the drug on a large group of people in clinical trials to measure the outcomes. A trial group consists of people who share the same diagnosis or disease. And after years of testing and reviewing the results, the drug can then be approved. When it is, it may help some people suffering from the condition, but it might have no effect, or even a negative effect, on others. In fact, the average prescription drug will only work for about half of the people to whom it’s prescribed.
Doctors who practice conventional medicine typically only consider the absolute basics when determining what regimen or prescription to give you:
- Height and weight
- General disease characteristics
Modern Medicine: The Personalized Approach
While the main goal of conventional medicine is to treat symptoms, precision medicine focuses on predicting, preventing, and treating the disease itself. Rather than running broad tests and prescribing generic drugs to all individuals suffering from a similar illness, precision medicine is tailored to each patient individually. Precision medicine—aptly called “personalized medicine”—considers your personal and family medical history as well as your unique genetic makeup to develop prevention and treatment plans that are specific to you. Some precision medicine programs can even analyze the DNA in cancer cells and use a computer algorithm to find alternative or specialized treatment options that might not be considered in conventional medical practices.
Specialists who practice this personalized approach to medicine consider a wide variety of factors when diagnosing patients and prescribing medication plans. In addition to the basics covered in the conventional medicine approach, precision medicine also considers your:
- Unique disease characteristics
The Future of Healthcare Is Personalization
Precision practices are already in use today, such as matching blood types for blood transfusions or genetic tests that predict whether the recipient will reject a heart transplant. There are also cases of successful experimental therapies involving sequencing the DNA of a patient’s tumor and reproducing effective immune cells to rid the patient of cancer. Some healthcare facilities even offer genome sequencing as a preventive care option. Over time, this focus on the individual will expand in order to continue improving healthcare outcomes.
The Benefits of a Personalized Approach to Healthcare
As precision medicine continues to gain support and funding, we will begin to see noticeable changes in how patients are diagnosed and treated, including:
- Advancements in preventing and predicting conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
- Improved accuracy in developing effective treatment plans with just a single test
- Reduced negative side effects caused by generic treatments that affect the whole body
- Progress towards curing and treating conditions that are currently untreatable
Data-Sharing and Other Ethical Concerns
Privacy is a crucial element in the healthcare sector. As medicine gets closer to a more personalized approach where your DNA is on file at the hospital, people have raised concerns regarding the misuse and sharing of genetic profiles. Who will have access to your profile? Will life and health insurance companies be able to see what diseases you are predisposed to developing?
Another concern is about monitoring the research labs that might have access to your genetics and the types of regulations that will need to be enforced to ensure that your DNA is not misused.
There are definite benefits to precision medicine, and we will likely continue seeing more cases of patients receiving successful non-conventional treatments. As medicine continues to improve, ethical concerns regarding patients’ DNA and genetic profiles will have to be carefully considered to protect our privacy and continue moving medicine towards a more personalized approach.
Smith, F. (2019, January). How personalized medicine is transforming your health care. National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/01/personalized-medicine-transforming-your-health-care/
Traditional vs. precision medicine: How they differ. (2018, May). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/precision-vs-traditional-medicine#1