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Empowered patients: shaking the foundations of healthcare

Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare.This new approach to treating and preventing disease views the patient holistically, analysing their genes, environment and lifestyle, and using this information to make a more accurate treatment decision. Here we discuss the barriers, opportunities and potential outcomes of the precision medicine era in healthcare.

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Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare. It embodies the shift from treating many patients with the same therapy, to having the tools to identify the best treatment for every patient.

This new approach to treating and preventing disease views the patient holistically, analysing their genes, environment and lifestyle, and using this information to make a more accurate treatment decision. As a result, healthcare professionals are shifting to using tests to inform rather than to confirm treatment decisions.

In clinical practice, this means doctors are using genetic tests and employing novel diagnostics to pinpoint the most precise treatments.

Crucially, this new era of precision medicine will not only treat patients on a molecular level, the insights from the genetic data can then inform future treatment decisions to improve population outcomes.

We will be able to harness the data of every patient to better understand disease, ensuring our genetic databases are continuously updated.

However, we still have some way to go before this can be fully realised. While science and technology are progressing rapidly, some stakeholders are still reeling from the seismic shift in the way patients are treated.

The barriers preventing innovation

Within this new era of precise treatment sits a complex network of stakeholders who are beginning to navigate the novel landscape. It will take collaboration across this ecosystem for precision medicine to become embedded in healthcare systems.

The patient sits at the centre of this web. As precision medicine is reliant on collecting large data sets from patients, their needs, worries and fears are central to the progress of treatment. These range from concerns about the hereditary impact of genetic tests to fears about privacy.

Conversely, empowered patients and carers are propelling precision medicine forward. Those with the ability to research, or those with a support system who can research for them, are pushing doctors to treat them with the latest innovations – nowhere is this more evident than in the oncology space. However, this is putting pressure on doctors to better understand the genetic foundations of disease.

These healthcare professionals often rely on genetic counsellors, which are a scarce resource. Those practicing in a community care setting often lack knowledge of precise treatments, as shown in our interview with breast cancer survivor Laura Holmes-Haddad (on p.10). As a result, the ‘zip code lottery’ and patients’ financial constraints are fundamental to cancer care, with those unable to travel to a centre of excellence often failing to get the best treatment.

Here, industry has a role to play in communicating the benefits of the precision medicine approach in a way that both educates healthcare professionals and elicits behaviour change. Crucially, this means working with oncologists to develop tools, services and processes to simplify the search for information.

Often this will include employing a multichannel approach to connect with doctors, who may not attend the larger congresses where data is revealed, outside of centres of excellence.

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21st August 2019

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