Two months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating pain in my back. I curled into a fetal position, hoping it would pass. On Monday morning, I drove straight to my family physician. After knocking on my back in a couple of different spots, he prescribed me a generic antibiotic.
“Take this,” he said. “It should clear out anything causing the pain.”
Apparently, this “fix-all” antibiotic was not the fix I needed. Three days later, the pain in my back was even worse, and at about 10:00 p.m. on Thursday night, I checked myself into the ER of my local hospital. One examination, one CAT scan, and a new antibiotic later, I was sent home — along with a $4,000 bill.
The Cure for Healthcare Is Personalization
Today’s healthcare system struggles to maintain costs while providing high-quality care. However, by transitioning to a personalized healthcare approach, treatment success rates increase, patients avoid unnecessary doctor visits, and unnecessary costs are cut. If my doctor had personalized my treatment early on, I could have easily saved myself a trip to the ER and the pain of a kidney infection. Thankfully, help is on the way.
The Human Genome Project (HGP), for instance, marked the first time doctors were able to read all three billion DNA pairs in the human genome; the complete genetic blueprint for building a human being. The goal was to provide researchers with powerful tools to understand the genetic factors in human disease, paving the way for new strategies for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Thanks to this manual on how a human being is built, we already have more than 2,000 genetic tests for human medical conditions. And 350 biotechnology-based products to help treat them are undergoing clinical trials.
The Future of Personalized Medicine
When it comes to personalized treatment, patients with common cancers, such as lung cancer and melanoma, can now routinely undergo genomic sequencing to identify specific mutations, which can tell the clinician how the individual instance of cancer operates in that patient. Using behind-the-scenes software solutions, doctors can conduct research to see if there are any trials showing which drug is most beneficial for that particular mutation and to find out how previous patients have reacted to those treatments.
The German National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) is already using high-speed analytics to analyze information from different sources (clinical information systems, tumor registries, biobank systems, text documents, etc.) and is putting that information into actionable context within minutes. In addition, NCT can view a comprehensive overview of each individual patient’s medical history in a graphical timeline, making it easy to access patient information with any level of detail. Read more about NCT here.
Here are other examples of how personalized treatment is changing the game:
- Targeted clinical trials: Drug makers will be able to conduct smaller clinical trials that are better targeted to an alike group of patients. The result will be a more personalized drug that has a higher chance of successfully curing a particular illness.
- Prevention: The patient will serve as a proactive participant in his or her own health. Individuals who smoke, fake tan, and voluntarily partake in health threatening behaviors will pay higher premiums for insurance, and physicians will be dedicated to better monitoring patients to stop illness before it starts.
- Social forums: Online and mobile social groups will be created to connect physicians and patients. They will serve as open forums to post questions, learn about patients who are experiencing similar symptoms, virtually chat with doctors, monitor the progress of others within a health plan, and participate in virtual support groups.
- Connected care apps: Through certain mobile apps, doctors and patients will be able to maintain constant contact to exchange information. This eliminates the need for unnecessary visits to the doctor’s office while also helping the physician detect early signs of illness. The Heidelberg University Research Hospital is already doing this through a new mobile app that connects pregnant mothers with doctors. Not only does the app provide moms with information, but it also asks them subtle, psychological questions to help the doctors evaluate and treat early signs of depression. Read about this new app here.
The Infinite Possibilities of Big Data
Being able to crunch massive amounts of data using real-time, in-memory computing solutions means that hospitals all over the world can start accessing and analyzing numerous sources of information, from genomes, to electronic medical records (EMR), to clinical trials – bringing them together to create personalized treatments for patients. The old method of reactive care isn’t sustainable for a cost-effective future, and it leaves too many people uncured and in debt.
Flash back two months ago. Instead of blindly prescribing me medicine based on a hunch, if my doctor had access to my EMR, specialized research, and more targeted treatment, significant time and money would have been saved. Healthcare needs to change to provide patients with the right treatment the first time, never allowing escalation to emergency situations.
This story also appeared on SAPVoice on Forbes.