February 9, 2015

Two news items caught my eye recently that I see as harbingers of the future.

On January 30, President Obama said that he will ask Congress to support a $215 million “precision medicine” initiative. The President defined precision medicine as “delivering the right treatment, at the right time, every time, to the right person.”


Precision medicine can be viewed as a variant of “personalized medicine” – a vision of individualized care based on a person’s genetic makeup and lifestyle. Some health care providers have already begun using genetic testing in certain patient populations to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from a drug therapy. In fact, the FDA now has information indicating the best genetic traits for experiencing a positive outcome in the labels of more than 130 different drugs.

The twin drivers of technology (e.g., electronic health records, physiological monitors, rapid screening services) and scientific advances (e.g., genomics, informatics, molecular diagnostics) are poised to take this personalized approach to patient care to an entirely new level, revealing a depth of patient information that was once unimaginable. Indeed, everyone may soon have an exhaustive personal database of physiological, genetic, and medical information.

A few days before the President’s call for precision medicine, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burrell announced a series of landmark changes to the Medicare program. The focus of these efforts will be to align Medicare reimbursements with the quality of care provided versus the quantity of care.

The agency underscored its commitment to this approach by outlining specific metrics to facilitate the transition from a “fee for service” system to a “fee for cure” system.

Support for the HHS announcement came from across the health care spectrum, with representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Medical Association, AARP, and CVS Health among the groups backing the new direction. This broad range of support is a strong indication that this initiative will have a far reaching impact across the entire health care system, not simply the Medicare program.

Though they may appear on the surface to be unrelated, these announcements provide some of the strongest evidence yet that the current one-size-fits-all model to medicine and pharmacy will eventually be replaced by one based around personalized care. And the sooner that happens, the better – for patients, providers, and the health care system at large.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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