Precision medicine is being called the healthcare of the future. In January, President Obama announced he wants to invest $215 million in research into personalized care, which could lead to medical care tailored to an individual's unique biological makeup. Now, an opinion piece published in The Lancet medical journal argues that new developments in precision medicine could offer enormous gains in the health and life expectancy of millions of Americans.
Currently, most personalized medicine is being used to treat diseases such as cancer, but even greater benefits will stem from utilizing it for disease prevention, CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus, one of the article's authors, told "CBS This Morning." "When you use it for prevention, there are dramatic effects that benefit both patients and society in the tune of billions of dollars in savings," he said.
If the potential for a serious medical problem was identified early, doctors could intervene and use precision medicine to help prevent the development of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, some of the biggest killers in the United States, Agus said. He explained that the same concept could work to target mental illness.
Currently, doctors rely on genetics to determine treatment with the options available in precision medicine. "Right now, you spit into a tube, we can sequence your DNA, and we can start to do things that are personal," Agus said. "It means the right dose of the right medicine for the right patient." In the future, doctors will look at other factors, such as proteins and bacteria, to personalize medicine.
One concern is that not everyone may want to know if a disease is in their future. "It's a personal decision," Agus said. "For many diseases, you have to discuss with the patient and say 'do you want to know?'" What's more, the American healthcare system is not geared toward prevention.
"We're incentivized to treat, both at the insurer level and the doctor level," Agus said. Insurers, he argued, might not want to pay for tests that would prevent diseases 10 or 20 years in the future, since patients could switch carriers. Many physicians also lack a prevention-based focus. "Doctors are paid to treat, to do surgery and other things. They're not incentivized to prevent," Argus said. "So we really need to reshape the system and push toward prevention because I think that's how healthcare should go for the next decade or two."