What Is Personalized Healthcare?

From patients to medications, one size does not fit all

Personalized medication

Is it concierge medicine? No. Is it executive health medicine? No. Does it refer to the patient experience? No.

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There are many definitions out there for personalized healthcare. Personalized healthcare and personalized medicine are often used synonymously, but understanding the differences is important.

Personalized medicine refers specifically to the use of genetics and genomics. An example of personalized medicine includes the use of specific tumor markers to guide therapy for breast cancer.

We view personalized healthcare as a broader platform that includes genetics and genomics but also includes any other biologic information that helps predict risk for disease or how a patient will respond to treatments. An example of personalized healthcare would be the inclusion of specific biomarkers like Lipoprotein (a) that can help to better predict risk for heart disease or stroke in some individuals. These biomarkers can augment our traditional means of assessing risk based on age, menopausal status for women, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about personalized healthcare:

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1. Cost and quality

The United States consistently ranks second worldwide in terms of dollars spent for healthcare, yet we are ranked 24th by the World Health Organization for life expectancy.

Too often, we prescribe medicines by trial and error and a one-size-fits-all approach. But not everyone responds to a drug the same way. While most people may respond to a particular drug and dose, a handful of patients may have either very little effect or serious side effects from the same medication. Adverse side effects are a leading cause of hospitalization in the United States and a large contributor to healthcare spending.

Personalized healthcare can help us predict the right therapy with the fewest side effects for individual patients. It can improve the quality of care and decrease cost at the same time.

2. Getting patients involved in their care

Studies have shown that patients fill and take prescriptions as instructed only 60 percent of the time. Why is this? Many reasons likely exist, including a growing culture of concern regarding medication and side effects and a growing culture of mistrust of the medical system. With easy online sharing of information, patients can very easily learn and share their experiences — including negative experiences and medication side effects.

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We have made tremendous growth in our knowledge of disease and health and our ability to treat disease (the FDA approved 35 new drugs in the 2011 fiscal year alone), but we still have much to learn about the causes of disease and health. As we learn more about the individual risk for disease and response to therapy, this information will allow you, the patient, to understand your own treatment plan and gain confidence that the recommendations and therapies being offered are the right ones for you. We have a team taking care of your health — and you are a crucial part of it.

Do you have questions about personalized healthcare? Let us know in the comments below. And subscribe to my personalized healthcare posts to learn more.


Kathryn Teng, MD

Kathryn Teng, MD, is Director of the Center for Personalized Healthcare and leads Cleveland Clinic’s efforts to integrate personalized healthcare into standard practice.