As a society, we have been primed to expect personalization, whether from online shopping recommendations, turn-by-turn directions, or suggestions of what to watch next on Netflix. Healthcare is no different. Personalized healthcare, often referred to as personalized medicine, is the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient.
When clinicians use diagnostic tests to determine which medical treatments will work best for each patient and integrate the data from those tests with an individual’s medical history, circumstances, and values, they can develop targeted treatment and prevention plans. This personalized approach is believed to result in better outcomes than the traditional standard of care: a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine based on broad population averages.
As medical science and technology have progressed, the ability to provide more personalized healthcare has also evolved along with our expectations. When President Bill Clinton commemorated the completion of the first draft of the human reference genome in 2000, he pronounced that the achievement “…would revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.” From this juncture, consumers have had the expectation that healthcare providers would eventually be able to tailor bespoke treatments for what ails us based on our individual genetic codes and health goals.
The reality has been slow-going. But with improvements to technology – especially the employment of genomics and data science techniques – we have seen greater opportunities for more personalized healthcare. Underpinning many of these opportunities are advancements in blood testing, which has itself undergone major improvements due to advances in technology and data science.
Blood Testing Enables Personalized Healthcare
Routine blood testing has long been a part of medical care. The annual wellness visit has commonly included a lipid panel (especially since statin drugs were first introduced in 1987), complete metabolic panel, and blood sugar screening. In recent years, blood testing technology and our medical knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds. As Time magazine framed it, “…researchers are discovering that each of us walks around with 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) of what may be the most sophisticated and revealing diagnostic available. Each drop teems with data, not just about your current state of health but also about what your future might hold.”
As one of the highest-profile forms of personalized healthcare, genomics has often been facilitated by blood testing – for instance, to detect and monitor cancer. Blood tests have been developed to look for the genetic material from tumors and help guide treatment decisions. Genomic-based blood tests are also replacing or supplementing existing methods for prenatal testing, and some experts believe traditional newborn screening tests will soon be replaced by genome sequencing via a standard blood test at birth. This “could provide more health information than the current panel of tests, and could potentially be used to guide an individual’s lifetime of medical care, providing early information on both treatable childhood diseases and conditions that occur in adulthood.”
In addition to aiding in the quick identification of individuals with rare diseases, information from pediatric whole genome sequencing can also identify those at high risk for developing diseases with later onset, such as cancer, hypertension, or glaucoma, to enable better screening. Information from those same blood tests can also guide therapy selection for conditions developed later in life. Pharmacogenomic approaches are being used to predict medication responses, avoid side effects, and optimize patient dose across numerous therapeutic areas including cardiology, endocrinology, neurology, psychiatry, rheumatology, and others.
While these advances have progressed gradually, approaches and methods that enable personalized healthcare have grown quickly over the past decade – and routine blood testing has been critical to this evolution. An important personalized healthcare trend is the promise of increased access to point-of-care blood testing in neighborhood locations that fit a patient’s schedule, budget, and privacy needs, as these delivery models are tailored to the needs of the individual patient as a consumer. Retailers and pharmacies have introduced convenient and affordable clinical services. For example, CVS has opened over 1,100 MinuteClinics staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants in 33 U.S. states and plans to open 1,500 HealthHUBstores (a remodeled version of its stores with more space dedicated to health services) by 2021. In some cases, these expanded testing sites can support the patient’s individual care journey in partnership with the patient’s clinician by replacing the centralized clinical laboratory with a neighborhood pharmacy that offers one-stop, streamlined health services. In other cases, these care sites can supplement care being sought elsewhere or for a different purpose. For example, telehealth startup Hims, Inc., offers virtual care appointments for conditions that a patient might feel uncomfortable talking about with the primary care physician during an in-person visit, such as hair loss or sexual issues. In order to support these interactions with patients, whether through in-person, virtual care, or near-virtual office visits, clinicians need access to the data that routine blood work can provide.
A Data-Driven Approach to Personalization
Advances in data science have also opened up new possibilities for personalized healthcare based on the data that consumers can now gather through fitness trackers and smartphones. This accumulated data can now help doctors better understand the full picture of an individual patient’s health and wellness. While understanding how much exercise or sleep a patient gets can round out a health evaluation, the data provided by blood testing can be much more definitive for determining the diagnosis and course of treatment. Specifically, blood tests can help doctors:
- Evaluate how well organs – such as the kidneys, liver, thyroid, and heart – are working
- Diagnose diseases and conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, anemia, and coronary heart disease
- Find out whether a patient has risk factors for chronic conditions, such as heart disease
- Monitor the efficacy of the patient’s medications
- Determine how well the patient’s blood is clotting
Advances in digital technology, data analytics, and artificial intelligence have personalized almost every aspect of our lives – and healthcare is no different. As healthcare evolves to become more personalized, we should also expect routine blood care to become more personalized. Truvian’s benchtop blood diagnostics platform is designed to make routine blood testing more convenient, affordable, and actionable for today’s connected consumers. With convenient testing locations and access to their own test results, consumers will be empowered to partner together with clinicians to manage their health and healthcare. Accessing blood testing more frequently – made possible by lab-accurate, affordable, and timely blood diagnostics – will enable patients to better understand what’s normal for them as individuals, rather than an average developed from a predetermined population. Frequent blood testing will help clinicians identify serious medical conditions in real-time and provide data-driven recommendations for each patient’s individual medication regimen, lifestyle changes, and treatment plan.