- Nikhil Chaudhry
Precision Medicine and Health Policy
Precision medicine has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about public health and the implications of policies attempting to mitigate a variety of health issues. Precision medicine emphasizes individual differences in genetic and environmental risk to treat disease, incorporating new technological developments such as Big Data and other information systems. By definition, public health and health policy focus on population-level risk factors and determinants for poor health outcomes. Thus, it seems that these ideas are contradictory, but they intersect in many ways and open the future for better health policy and treatments for disease (1).
With the advent of data collected by individuals conducting precision medicine, public health and precision medicine converge into “precision public health,” where large datasets coming from populations are analyzed to develop effective policy and treatment strategies (2). This level of analysis is unheard of, but extremely valuable in the creation of health policy. Data analysis helps policymakers determine where and how to address social determinants of health within the population. While using Big Data will inevitably come with challenges, incorporating these measures into policy has the potential to inform many new initiatives focused on various subpopulations experiencing poor health outcomes.
Precision medicine within public health was a large focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, where certain zip codes or minority communities were experiencing disproportionately high infection rates with low access to COVID tests or vaccines. Epidemiologists encourage policymakers and leaders to “think local” in order to successfully target the individuals that need the most resources from the government to combat COVID-19 in their communities (3). Given what we know about precision medicine currently, there are many applications of the field to improve health policies related to COVID-19. For instance, testing and vaccine clinics can be established in zip codes with the greatest infection rates and research funding could be devoted to the comorbidity populations with the greatest risk of complications from COVID-19 infection.
Long-term health policies can also use precision medicine. For instance, cancer research has exemplified the crossover between individualized medical care and treating an entire population. Cancer has many individual causes, requiring the use of precision medicine, and its burden of disease is growing exponentially. By focusing on more precise causes of cancer in an individual, nation-wide cancer screening programs can be instituted to potentially detect the same type of cancer in other individuals and begin treatment as soon as possible For example, cervical cancer screening programs are being conducted in Australia caused by HPV, categorizing participants into different groups based on specific genes related to cancer (4). Essentially, this approach involves using individualized data to benefit an entire population’s health. This strategy can be applied to a variety of other diverse health issues plaguing a population, such as obesity or birth defects.
With these positive outcomes in mind, there are many potential challenges that may come with transitioning the fields of health policy and healthcare as a whole to a more individualized focus. Many countries may not have the infrastructure or resources to work with individual data and cater approaches to each patient. Many nations struggle with an extremely low number of medical professionals per capita, which can inhibit these policy implications from improving health (5). In the future, the fields of global and public health must work to address these large issues, as the under-resourced countries would benefit significantly from precision medicine. However, precision medicine has the potential to revolutionize public health and health policy in the future. It is important for policymakers and governmental leaders to consider precision medicine when writing policy to ensure that we continue to advocate for and treat the populations that need it most.
Edited by: Sara Be
Graphic Designed by: Heiley Tai