Each person has a range of characteristics that determine their identity. Many of these characteristics have a bearing on their overall health. Some healthcare providers hope to use personalized characteristics, diagnostic tests, medical history, and biometric data to inform treatment plans.
There are many benefits and challenges to a personalized healthcare system. Most patients and providers agree that a personalized approach leads to better health outcomes, but the costs and challenges of personalized healthcare can be prohibitive.
Personal data such as genetics, environment, habits, health risks, and previous medical history are all used in a personalized healthcare environment. This information is used for preventative care, informing treatment on current ailments, offering lifestyle recommendations for improving health, and providing better, all-encompassing patient care.
Today’s personalized healthcare relies heavily on digital health technologies, which makes it easier to share data across offices. Electronic health records prevent information from falling through the cracks when patients move between providers or across specialties.
The end goal of personalized healthcare is to leave behind the one size fits all medical paradigm that often prevails among healthcare professionals and institutions. An emphasis is placed on utilizing patient data to develop the best care plan and minimize health risks.
While there is room for improvement as personalized healthcare continues to grow as a clinical standard, there are common examples of personalized health planning already in practice today. They include:
- Early detection breast exams at a younger age for women with a family history of breast cancer.
- Gestational diabetes testing earlier in pregnancy for women with higher BMIs.
- Different prescription offerings if you are allergic to common active ingredients.
- Trial and error testing for dosages of anxiety, depression, and ADHD medications.
- Telehealth appointments make healthcare visits easier for individuals in rural areas, individuals with no childcare options, and those with little or no paid time off.
Patient outcomes are improved in situations where personalization is incorporated. It isn’t only individual patients who benefit from personalized care. Healthcare professionals will notice improvements in their day-t0-day duties when they take a personalized approach. In addition to patients and providers, public health systems reap benefits from individualized personal care as well.
All three of these groups benefit largely from new genetic information derived from increased individual genetic and ancestry testing. Data collected from personal data collectors, such as fitness watches, also lead to new information that informs healthcare advances.
Personalized medicine gives patients more control over their own health and leads to better health outcomes. Most people have been in a situation where they felt a doctor did not listen to their symptoms, appropriately understand their medical history, or seriously consider problems they felt should be addressed. This is frustrating from a time-wasting perspective and can result in incorrect diagnoses or a lack of necessary testing.
One of the largest positives of personalized health planning is that medical providers can notice concerning trends sooner and provide better preventative care. This has the potential not only to prevent disease development and detect potential issues sooner but can save individuals money in the long run. In many situations, preventative care is cheaper than remedial solutions.
Both preventative and remedial prescriptions better fit individual needs when they are prescribed with a patient’s unique biometric data in mind. With the sheer number of prescription drug options available for various maladies, it is helpful when a provider takes the time to prescribe what will work best for an individual patient instead of what has worked for the masses.
Overall personalized health systems allow for more informed decisions. There are countless ways the human body can malfunction. Data collection and precision medicine cut down on the unknown and allow healthcare professionals to provide better advice. Individuals can then make final medical decisions with increased confidence.
The highest value of personalized healthcare is in an individual’s improved quality of life. Data-driven personalized health planning creates peace of mind when more stones are overturned. This way, fewer issues are hidden, just waiting to become a threatening medical condition.
All in all, personalized medicine leads to better patient care.
Patient engagement is higher when providers approach visits from a personalized health standpoint. Better engagement leads to better follow-up rates, an area of medicine that providers struggle with. It is easier to guarantee strong health trajectories when patients return for routine follow-up appointments.
Medical providers can take more holistic approaches when they have biometric data and an established care routine to draw from. Seeing the whole picture saves doctors time and resources working with patients.
Decreased costs and increased revenue are the natural bi-products of less time and resource waste and more follow-up appointments. Providers can provide better care, increase profits, and have higher patient satisfaction ratings when they provide personalized medicine.
Personalizing care has far-reaching implications. As more and more individuals in the general population receive better medical care, public health improves overall. A healthier population results in fewer public health issues that need addressing from a systemic standpoint. This also drives down public health costs.
Public health also benefits from analyzing large amounts of aggregated data. Digital health information can show potential large-scale health risks before symptoms are noticed at large. Trends across a population might not be noticed by individual providers, but public health officials with access to data can interpret significant information.
Even if an individual does not experience personalized healthcare, they can benefit from measures taken by public health offices in situations regarding disease prevention and improvement of public services tied to health.
There is a reason personalized healthcare is not fully implemented; it can be difficult to achieve. Roadblocks, high costs, and red tape make it difficult to embrace personalized medicine fully.
For individuals, knowing where to start is the most difficult challenge of embracing personalized medical care. How do you find your data? How do you find a doctor who is known for listening and examining that data? What testing does insurance cover? The lack of information and formal training for individuals makes it difficult to advocate for your health if your provider is not driving personalized health initiatives.
Even if individuals know their options, they might not have the resources to get the most out of personalized health practices. Genetic testing is one of the most beneficial data collection tests to do, but it is expensive and often not covered by insurance. This major preventative barrier stops individuals from requesting a more personal approach. Data-collecting devices, such as Apple Watches and Fitbits, are also expensive, so their benefits are not realized by all who want to provide their doctors with more regular biometric data.
The threat of invasion of privacy is another challenge for individuals who want to implement personalized healthcare. While digital health records are helpful in keeping a care team on the same page, they do open up the opportunity for a breach of privacy or a data leak. This can be the largest obstacle for some, even if money is not an issue.
Providers are unable to embrace personalized practices if common barriers stop them. One of the largest obstacles is a lack of patient buy-in. It is difficult to get anything new to take off if your clientele is uninterested. A positive customer experience is important enough that providers who cannot get buy-in might abandon a shift to personalized healthcare if it hurts ratings and client retention.
Privacy concerns are an obstacle for providers, just as they are for individuals. Government privacy protections and regulations make it difficult to share data. If digital health records are not easily shared between trusted providers, it is possible they just aren’t shared. The lack of a standardized platform or portal that all providers use is a large obstacle tied to privacy issues. This all stems from a lack of modern regulation to allow consistent and identical data-sharing practices across the board.
Lastly, one of the challenges providers face is a lack of knowledge. Medicine is broken up into many specialties. While a doctor might be a genius in one area, they can have little knowledge in a different field of medicine. Even if they have access to all of a patient’s data, it will be unhelpful if they aren’t well-versed in other areas of medicine. This is seen most largely in genetic testing. Doctors who are not geneticists often do not have the education or skills to utilize genetic testing results fully.
Some of the challenges that medical providers face are systemic, while others are individual. Regardless, multiple and sizable obstacles make it difficult to embrace a personalized care model fully.
The largest challenges public health systems face are connected to the issues of individuals and providers. Looming largest is the lack of digital health infrastructure to support data sharing of a global or even just a regional magnitude. There is no government support for such a system in the United States. Further, there are government privacy restrictions in place that make it difficult to share personal data.
If infrastructure issues were addressed, there would still likely be the issue of unwilling or uncertain citizen participation. As long as privacy protections are in place, individuals will refuse to allow their data to be shared.
Cost is the most prohibitive obstacle for public health entities. Budgets are often small, so success relies on individuals or insurance companies footing the bill or providers lowering costs. Public health will never see the possible outcomes without one or all of these entities solving the cost issue.
Patients seen as individuals with their own unique health footprint experience benefits compared to those treated as just another person in a group. While we know there are benefits for all involved in the personalized healthcare process, there are challenges to be faced. Individuals, providers, and public health systems will continue to grow and learn as healthcare enters a new era of personalized care.
New tools will continue to come onto the market, leading to helpful new insights. There are already data drive devices individuals and doctors alike are underutilizing and have great potential to affect the industry positively.
JennyCo‘s Healthcare Data Exchange uses data to provide even more helpful information. JennyCo also has information that can help individuals participate in the Healthcare Data Marketplace to benefit from their data in ways beyond personal medical decision-making.
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