Precision Medicine

Defining Precision Medicine: The Last Mile In Genomics

In the wake of tragedy, we often get lost in thoughts of, “If only…”

Family members of a suicide victims often think, “if only I had done X, I could have saved them.” Similarly, many in 2008 thought, “If only the dollar were stronger, or if only we had stopped the sub-prime lending, perhaps the recession could’ve been avoided.” Friends wish they had taken the keys from a loved one who claimed they “were just fine” as they drove off from the bar, if only they had known.

 These are heavy examples of regret and lost time. They represent the futile hope of preventing tragedy and sparing heartache. In society, we emphasize “rising from the ashes” of a tragedy by moving on to a new life, to better things – a nod to American grit.

But what if a glimpse of future tragedy existed? Would we care to know? Would we act on the “if only?” I’m aware of one national opportunity that affords many the chance to avoid the ashes of regret. Precision medicine stands as our great strategy for tragedy prevention and medical heartache spared. It’s our opportunity to rest assured, knowing we did all within our scientific prowess to affect a better outcome for ourselves, a loved one, or society at large.

When healthcare technology innovation occurs, the industry tends to undergo a period of redefinition as organizations proactively seek to make sense of the possible applications for new technology. To assist our network of healthcare provider organizations navigating uncharted territory in precision medicine, KLAS has begun research into this space. Our goal is to help providers along their first investment steps by establishing an early market framework of applied genomics software applications. This framework with likely highlight solution types and use cases, along with early value realization.

Our first task in publishing precision medicine market research is defining the concept from a technology standpoint. I realize that there is no shortage of opinion on this front. Is precision medicine a product, a strategy, or a goal? Depends on who you ask, and what kind of healthcare stakeholder they are. Pharmacy stakeholders often view precision medicine as an innovative therapy, while researchers may define it as discovering a potentially impactful gene variant. Meanwhile, a medical center might tout an effective precision medicine effort as using genetic knowledge to identify an at-risk sub-group in their patient population. With all of these definitions, my question always becomes, “Then what? How can we effectively engage physicians and patients in new life-saving knowledge and care pathways?”

After spending a couple years observing this space, KLAS decided to establish a reporting approach that can be used in decision making. For our purposes, we must define precision medicine today by its utility. So, for our research to actually benefit providers and patients, KLAS defines this space as applied genomics that improve patient care.

This definition reflects our desire to educate our primary audience, healthcare providers. KLAS will validate a marketplace of vendors who create tools that help providers apply genomics knowledge and data in new and efficient ways; through decision support, analytics, engagement, reporting, or facilitating genetic counseling services. An executive I spoke with recently characterized provider-focused precision medicine tools as, “the last mile of genomics.” I think he’s right. The industry has been hard at work over the last several decades developing our knowledge of the human genome, and its impact on diseases and cancer etc. We are just beginning to see the true impact of this knowledge on healthcare. I’m hopeful that the real value is nascent, still waiting for us to utilize genomics to its fullest potential.

As I head up KLAS’ reporting on this critical space, I’m excited about how this research will contribute to avoiding and alleviating tragedy. In so many ways, genomics can enable us to “avoid the ashes.” As a researcher, my passion for this subject doesn’t center on tragedy, but rather a desire to prevent it. My “health heritage” as you might call it, is spattered with various disorders and diseases. Thankfully, none of these have reared their ugly head yet in my own life, but the potential of precision medicine to make healthcare truly proactive means that maybe they never will.

In this way, precision medicine crosses the path of other broad trends in healthcare. The shift to value-based care is rooted in large part in a desire to proactively manage the health of populations. Patients become engaged with their healthcare provider when they believe they are contributing to their well-being. Applied, or back-end, genomics promises to give preventative and/or proactive care a serious overhaul.

As KLAS begins to take a dedicated look at how precision medicine is impacting healthcare right now, we hope to produce research to supplement appropriate investment considerations. We want not only to help ambitious healthcare organizations identify a starting point on their applied genomics journey, but to eventually articulate best practices and realistic expectations of solutions.

Our belief is that if providers and patients are armed with the right tools and resources to apply genomic knowledge, we will hear fewer “if-onlys” and in turn hear more sighs of relief in healthcare. Moving forward, I’ll be sharing regularly what I learn, both through these blogs, and on my LinkedIn. I’m looking forward to getting this conversation started.