In this fast-paced, evolving world, precision health is often talked about as being at the forefront of changing the way we live. But is it just a phase or does it actually have the potential to shape new models of health care and change the future of our health system?
A few important questions: what is precision health? How does it help New Zealanders and the health professionals who care for them and what can it achieve?
Precision health is about predicting and preventing disease, not just treating it. Working out whether a person will get a disease and stopping the onset is the holy grail of healthcare transformation and sustainability. This is at our fingertips, we have the knowledge and we have the technology, it’s now just about how we apply it to achieve a healthier and more productive New Zealand.
Our genes, which are unique to each individual, can be upgraded - they can be switched on and off depending on how we live our lives. By doing this we can re-engineer our bodies to respond differently to different environmental factors. Let’s think for a moment about why even if we follow the same diet, some people still gain weight and others don’t. By analysing an individual’s genetic makeup and applying precision health technologies, we can change how that person will respond to a certain diet.
This enables us all to be healthier, have a better quality of life and be more productive.
It means the healthcare professionals caring for us can prioritise. They can prioritise health needs and information delivery at an individual level and drive wellness through prevention and early intervention. In the words of Thomas Edison, “the doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease”.
There are two key drivers to enabling precision health: genome sequencing and innovative artificial intelligence-based technologies. There is a third - a pay for performance model of health care, which we will cover in a future article.
Genome sequencing provides the unique data about an individual, it’s the information about a person’s genetic makeup that allows us to understand that person better, how they might react to specific treatments and what might cause certain diseases in that person. All of this helps us predict the future health of an individual and identify preventative measures that can be put in place, such as lifestyle changes and wellness programmes.
Artificial intelligence – while seemingly a buzz word for devices and technology, actually provides the ability to monitor an individual as they go about their everyday lives. Cutting edge wearable biotechnology that has the ability to monitor our physiology in real time not only strengthens precision health it is one of the most powerful tools for improving our health and wellbeing.
The challenge we have with being the best in our professional and personal lives is adopting precision health in a way that provides value, not only to an individual but to our communities and our country. But it’s fair to say that we live in a world of limitless possibility.