How does data analytics influence precision medicine?

There are myriad ways in which the use of data analytics can benefit the healthcare sector – and none more so than the field of precision medicine. In this blog post, we’re talking about how this exciting concept can shake up existing approaches to treatment, addressing issues of ethics and consent and exploring the impact this will have on real-world patients.

If you’ve stumbled across the term precision medicine before but aren’t quite sure what it means, it’s referring to an innovative and unique approach towards disease treatment and prevention which takes individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle habits into account for each person. It’s essentially the polar opposite of the one-size-fits-all approach to care that we’re used to, which assumes that each patient will respond in largely the same way regardless of their genetic makeup and other influencing factors. Based on information exclusive to the individual in question, medical practitioners will be able to establish a concrete treatment plan which applies specifically to the one person, rather than a blanket approach in which everyone is offered the same therapies or medication. This data can be retrieved from a variety of different sources – from genomic sequencing to information derived from wearables such as smart watches or monitors – and is provide with the full knowledge and consent of the individual receiving care.

Although the expression itself is relatively new, the concept has been around for some time, and you’ll likely have already heard of it without realising. Patients searching for bone marrow, for example, will need to be paired with a donor whose genetic profile matches theirs in order to reduce the risk of infection or further complications. The same can be seen with blood donation - random selection isn’t appropriate in this context, and the recipient will need to find someone who shares the same blood group in order to go ahead with a safe and effective transfusion.

It’s mostly used as part of an oncology treatment plan, but can be found across the spectrum of patient care. However, even though precision medicine isn’t unheard of and its use can be found in several areas of medicine, its position in everyday healthcare is quite limited, with many healthcare providers either reluctant or ill-prepared to take one some of the challenges that come with this approach. For one, precision medicine isn’t cheap, with high costs involved across the board. Secondly, given the ongoing conversation surrounding ethics of data use within healthcare, some providers might reasonably be apprehensive when it comes to the use of such sensitive information. Additionally, some primary care facilities simply aren’t able to cope with the demands of this process and provide the infrastructure needed for it to thrive – perhaps they simply don’t have an equipped team of data analysts to deal with this, or lack access and availability of genetic testing, for example. That being said, there’s huge potential to streamline and improve current practices, benefitting both the patient and the healthcare provider in the long term.

Using data analytics to create a personalised treatment plan is key in changing existing approaches to healthcare, rejecting outdated existing methods that might struggle in an increasingly underfunded patient care system. Of course, it goes without saying that this information needs to be handled securely, with appropriate measures taken to ensure the safety of this valuable and private data. However, with the right data framework in place – and guidance to support healthcare providers in the first steps on their journey towards this exciting and innovative approach – it’s entirely possible for organisations within this sector to rehaul existing systems, addressing ongoing issues and pinpointing specific problems within the patient cohort at large.

By harnessing the power of data generated from patient health records, diagnosis, and genomic sequencing, healthcare providers have the potential to transform healthcare & deliver personalised medicine. Precision medicine isn’t a short-term quick fix to current problems within the sector: it’s a sustainable, ethical, and responsible way of ensuring that each and every patient is able to access the safe and effective treatment they need, reducing pressure on existing systems and putting the individual and their needs back into the centre of it all.




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