What is the scope for precision health?

Precision medicine is seen as the future for healthcare, with the promise of effective and targeted diagnosis and interventions. To realise its full potential, though, it will be vital to create appropriate structures around how these approaches develop.

A recent article in the BMJ Open journal highlights this need from a medical practitioner point of view, a group of people who will be the key to the acceptance and implementation of precision medicines and healthcare.

The distinction is made between the fields of precision health and precision medicine. On the surface, the lay person might consider these fields to be one and the same, or at worst, closely related, but the responsibilities of physicians are often very distinct from health, with their clear focus on the treatment of disease and injury. The team who published the BMJ paper – from a number of scientific organisations in Australia – is keen to see precision health approaches operationalised – looking to the past for trends in data and research and identifying gaps and appropriate future directions.

Precision health owes less to treatments and diagnoses than it does to applying individual genetic variations, together with behavioral and environmental impacts, and the combined effects of these on the health of the population. More than just an attempt to profile risk or label groups within the populous, precision health is more helpfully a tool to allow patients and healthcare practitioners to proactively improve health. This could begin at birth, with screening (both genetic and for other biomarkers), and would continue throughout people’s lifespans.

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