By Joel Landau
More than ever, the patient is in charge in the healthcare space. Just as shoppers expect a more personalized experience from retailers — that vendors, armed with technological tools, will be well aware of their tendencies and preferences — patients expect healthcare providers to understand their individual makeup and medical history, and tailor care accordingly.
And indeed, the trend toward patient-centered care, which has been coming for a while now, has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. There are those, in fact, who believe COVID-19 has hastened digital transformation within the healthcare space by three years. There is an increase in the use of telehealth platforms, in remote sensors and in tablets that will feed information to doctors and nurses. And this flood of information enables providers to obtain a fuller picture of each patient — and, as a result, a more personalized treatment plan.
At The Allure Group, for instance, we use a remote patient-monitoring system called EarlySense, which enables healthcare professionals to track the vital signs and movements of patients. In pre-COVID times, that enabled staff to manage their time more effectively. Now, it enables them to social distance as well.
That is also the case with Telehealth Solution, the telemedicine platform used by The Allure Group. While it was first adopted to enable remote physician interventions (in the hope of reducing readmissions), it also allows for safer interactions. That is also true of Vis a Vis technology, a handheld device we distribute to patients upon discharge. Not only does it enable healthcare professionals to track patients’ vital signs from afar, it too enables remote visits.
Again — there is more data, allowing for a more personalized approach. And it won’t stop with gadgets like these, either. More than ever researchers are seeking to delve deeply into a patient’s medical history, and indeed into his or her genetic makeup, to determine the best course of action. The days of a one-size-fits-all approach to care are becoming a thing of the past, which is to everyone’s benefit.
“Patients expect their experiences to be personalized and tailored to their preferences and prior interactions,” Susan Collins, global healthcare head for the cloud communications platform Twilio, told Fierce Healthcare. And, she added:
“The opportunity to leverage technologies like smart devices, machine learning and orchestrated omnichannel communication tools allow this sort of tailored experience to be delivered at scale for a reasonable cost, creating the opportunity for a much more proactive approach to health management as a continuum of care rather than a reactive, transactional experience that has been common in the past.”
While there are those who offer slightly different definitions of patient-centered care, it is generally agreed that such care focuses on a patient’s overall well-being, his or her partnership with a physician in regard to care and the continuation of that relationship. And the value of ongoing care cannot be overstated, given the fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of Americans suffer from a chronic condition like heart disease, cancer or diabetes, and that 40 percent suffer from two or more. These conditions, usually the result of tobacco or alcohol use, poor nutrition and/or a lack of physical activity, are a major reason that a staggering $3.8 trillion is paid out each year in healthcare costs.
Dr. Julie C. Harper of the Dermatology and Skin Care Center in Birmingham, Ala., told Dermatology Times that physicians are in fact already practicing personalized medicine, but the idea now is to “take this concept a step further by using the patient’s genetic profile, medical history, microbiome, lifestyle and other environmental factors” to fashion the ideal treatment plan.
Again, consider COVID-19. Why is it that one person is asymptomatic, while another winds up in the ICU? Why does one get the sniffles, and another require a ventilator? The answer likely lies within a person’s genetic makeup, which plays a role in nine of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States (excluding accidents). As a result, genomic medicine will continue to grow in importance, continue to be an essential factor in personalized care.
Certainly, as Harper noted, data from all sources will play a role in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions. In early 2021, for instance, the National Institute of Health announced a research program called “All of Us,” which will see FitBits distributed to 10,000 subjects so that researchers can better determine the manner in which behavior impacts an individual’s health.
Among the other developments that point to the rise of personalized medicine are sensors that evaluate communication among brain cells, which might offer clues about effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, depression, addiction and schizophrenia. In addition, researchers are studying protein-protein interactions (PPI) in an attempt to determine the causes of a certain heart condition.
Again, the trend toward personalized medicine is not new. As far back as the 1990s a biologist named Lee Hood predicted that by 2016 every American would be carrying a data card listing his or her genetic sequence, as well as a detailed medical history. And that that would help clinicians determine the best course of care.
We’re not there yet. But we’re getting closer.
Joel Landau is founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities. He has served as a member or an advisor on a number of boards and committees, including the Medicaid Managed Care Advisory Review Panel (MCCARP), NYS DOH Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant, NYS DOH Task Force on Long Term Care Financing, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.