Precision medicine: Huge promise, but high health IT-related hurdles, too

John Halamka and Paul Cerrato sift through the hope and the hype of personally-tailored care, spotlighting to real-world success stories while not ignoring some significant potential pitfalls along the way.
By Mike Miliard
03:42 PM
Precision medicine

In their new book, Realizing the Promise of Precision Medicine, Paul Cerrato and John Halamka, MD, take a hard look at the potential for genomic discovery and technological advances set to cause a sea change in how healthcare is delivered.

"The goal of the precision medicine movement is to give clinicians and patients access to the kinds of information needed to create individually tailored programs to treat a variety of diseases and to ward off those that are preventable," they wrote. "To accomplish those twin goals will require the collection of far more data than clinicians now collect when they evaluate patients. It will require more sophisticated analytic tools to glean meaningful insights from the data collected. And equally important, it will require the public to become more engaged in its own care."

Halamka, chief information officer at Boston's Beth Israel Medical Center, and Cerrato, a longtime journalist on the health IT beat, explore the promise of personalized treatment techniques, whether at your local doctor's office or through the massive $215 million federal Precision Medicine Initiative launched by President Obama.

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They dive into the role that genomic sequencing technology, electronic health records and mobile devices will play in this transformative movement – but also don't ignore some significant hurdles holding it back: namely, challenges related to interoperability and patient privacy.

Precision medicine "may not be the revolution that some enthusiasts believe it to be," they write, but it's certainly "poised to profoundly transform patient care and consumer self-care by enlisting the technological tools that sci-fi fans only dreamt of a few short years ago."

At HIMSS18, Halamka and Cerrato will elaborate on their book in a session titled, Precision Medicine: Separating Hype from Reality. They'll spotlight the ways this next-big-thing is already having an impact on everyday medical practice. But they'll also sift through the hype – addressing real-world issues of cost, data volume, IT infrastructure and clinician resistance.

That last one is not insignificant. As Cerrato told Healthcare IT News earlier this year, many physicians will say, "'Personalized medicine? We already do that. We don't need to spend another $200 or $300 million on a precision medicine initiative because we already provide personalized care on a daily basis.'

"That's personalized care with a lowercase P," said Cerrato. "We're talking about something much more sophisticated and much more involved: genomics and microbiome and lots of other risk factors."

As he and Halamka explore some of the biggest obstacles holding back more widespread implementation of precision medicine, they'll also offer recommendations to help keep the momentum moving forward, showing real-world benefits of its strategies in action.

Halamka has already been pursuing many pilot projects at BIDMC making use of personalized techniques and technologies.

"I believe that the promise of precision medicine is real," he said during a recent HIMSS webinar. "And our experience with patient and family engagement, emerging technologies like machine learning and internet-of-things, combined with evidence, will get us there not in five years but in one."

Paul Cerrato and John Halamka will be speaking in the session, “Precision Medicine: Separating Hype from Reality,” at 8:30 a.m. March 7 in the Venetian, Galileo 901.

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Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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