The Future Of Healthcare Must Be Predictive And Preventive — Here’s Why

At Stanford Medicine, we envision a future where doctors not only diagnose and treat illnesses, but one where they can harness the power of technology and data to anticipate and prevent disease before it strikes. We call this vision Precision Health. I will be talking about it with some of Silicon Valley’s smartest thinkers today on a panel called Search for Cures Leads to Silicon Valley at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Precision Health is a fundamental shift toward healthcare that is more predictive, proactive and personalized. Here is a practical example: Recently, I met a patient who was diagnosed with cancer. She came to Stanford for treatment and immediately, a dedicated multidisciplinary care coordinator went to work developing a personally tailored treatment program and plan. As part of this, our team sequenced the genomic characteristics of her tumor, which they used to plan chemotherapy based on the individual characteristics of the tumor. Meanwhile, her care coordinator took on the responsibility of arranging for her treatment to take place close to home, scheduling a home healthcare nurse and giving the patient the peace of mind of knowing she always had someone to turn to. Once her treatment is finished, our physicians will monitor her genetic predictors to help prevent recurrences.

This is the high-tech, high-touch care that all providers should aspire to. And we believe it is the future of healthcare.

We’re not the only ones trying to usher in a new era of healthcare. Stanford Medicine is actively fostering partnerships with technologists, public health and policy experts, patient advocates and healthcare companies, and others who share this vision. Linda Avey, Noah Craft, Asha Nayak and Lisa Suennen, the Silicon Valley leaders I’ll be speaking with at the Milken conference, are only a few of the leaders with whom we’re collaborating.

But for all the excitement these efforts are generating, we have to confront the difficult reality that everything we do can be derailed if patients do not trust us to protect their privacy.

Precision Health requires patients to feel comfortable contributing their health data to collective efforts that benefit themselves and others down the line. And with regular news reports of undiscriminating data breaches, patients have serious concerns about handing over this information.

We cannot dismiss patients’ fears. We have to show that we deserve their trust. Although personal health data, such as genomic information, are the healthcare equivalents to a person’s surname and social security number, they are also the keys to unlocking personalized treatments.

Technology enables doctors to improve health outcomes and empowers patients to take charge of their own health. But personal data is key to this. To fully embrace the power of data, patients first must know their information is safe.

Imagine if the information given by your wearable fitness tracker was used by your provider to recommend healthcare decisions. Now multiply that by many other connected devices you use on a regular basis — the potential inputs are seemingly endless. Today, we have the ability to combine this information with knowledge from our genetics, physiology, environment, personal preferences and more to improve our health. That is the power — and untapped potential — of data in medicine.

By collecting and analyzing large and diverse datasets, we can break new ground on what it means to be a healthy human being, and explain why people get ill, how to prevent illness and which treatments work best for whom. The bottom line is information technology is a powerful enabler that can help doctors adjust care to improve health outcomes and can empower patients to take charge of their own health.

It’s incumbent upon us to address patient concerns by putting the proper protections in place and convening a serious discussion to determine what it will take to ensure patient comfort and safety.

After all, how can we benefit from the power of data if we don’t even share our own?

Read more of our coverage from Milken Global here.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

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