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In 2015, President Obama introduced the Precision Medicine Initiative in his State of the Union address, with a goal of developing a system of medical practice and treatment that is tailored to the genetics, environment, lifestyle and personal needs of individual patients. This program gained new energy in 2016, when the 21st Century Cures Act allocated $4.8 billion to the National Institute of Health for precision medicine and biomedical research. As these studies begin to recruit participants, we asked our physicians for their insights and perspectives on the precision medicine movement. Using our microsurvey technology, we collected data from 150 physicians from around the country who averaged 12 years in practice.
With so little preexisting literature about the merits of personalized medicine, 21% of physicians indicated that they were not at all familiar with the concept. Of the 79% that had a sense of the program, almost all physicians were actively pursuing or interested in learning more about this new perspective on treating patients. Physicians mentioned traveling to conferences, performing their own reading and participating in precision medicine programs recently instituted at their places of employment.
Even with research, some physicians found it difficult to define the main benefits or challenges of a precision medical treatment plan. Verbatim reports emphasized the uncertainty around this topic, “too early to tell” stated one Primary Care Physician from South Carolina with 25 years in practice.
Improved patient outcomes, fewer side effects, and an influx of new drug and treatment options were cited as potential benefits, as were higher reimbursement rates. Respondents agreed that the push for a personalized approach would ultimately benefit patients. At the same time, physicians had a number of concerns about the program, namely questioning if their patients would be able to afford the costs.
Physicians noted the ethical issues surrounding the increased knowledge of such genetic data, and the possibility of insurance denials, social prejudice, or even the potential negative impact on patient job status if that information is not kept entirely secure. Interestingly, physicians did not report the additional education on the part of the practitioner to be a significant drawback. Healthcare professionals appear willing to take the time to educate themselves on potentially advantageous changes to patient care.
Other physicians offered a warning, as one family medicine practitioner from New York with 29 years in practice stated, “there is a danger of adding more regulation and bureaucracy to the practice of medicine”. This concern is consistently represented by physicians today as they continue to struggle with increasing regulations and paperwork. Our recent research indicates that insurance forms and other paperwork are the largest contributors to physician burnout, an issue over 56% of physicians report that they have personally faced.
When asked who would benefit from the increased use of precision medicine, an overwhelming 86% of respondents agreed that both the physician and the patient would see improvement. One allergist from Maryland with five years in practice commented that precision medicine would make it “more satisfying to pick a correct intervention for the patient from the doctor’s perspective. For the patient, it will be less frustration.” For some, precision medical care could alleviate a lot of the trial and error of finding the correct medication or treatment that can be so time consuming for physicians and patients alike.
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