Precision Medicine in 2017? Not So Fast…


As we head into HIMSS 2017, the movement toward precision medicine is at the top of the agenda. The idea of using data to customize care for patients is not new; however, with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act late in 2016, what was once a far-off dream now seems closer to reality.

But are we really that close? Unfortunately, the answer is no, unless we address the key barriers to success: interoperability and cybersecurity.

The prospect of precision medicine opens up a world of possibilities in healthcare. However, we must raise the red flags now – otherwise, we will not be able to maximize the positive impact of precision medicine.

Interoperability: Why Can’t We Get There?

While ‘interoperability’ may feel like a played-out buzzword, there’s a reason why it is still a pertinent topic today: because it still hasn’t happened.

Simply put, we still have not solved the data issue in healthcare. Data is digital, but not readily available; data exists in EHRs, but isn’t aggregated and shared in a way that makes sense for clinicians. In addition, the road to precision medicine is not limited to EHRs but also depends on the ability to collect real time data from medical devices at the moment of care – physiologic phenotypes, genomic data, and the like.

We continue to leave data on the table, and that’s a problem. Precision medicine fundamentally depends on data to make unique diagnosis/care plans for individual patients or populations, and that cannot happen easily or effectively without interoperability. A November report from the President’s Cancer Panel rightly points out that healthcare IT could play a significant role in addressing more serious health issues, but a lack of data interoperability and access holds us back.

There is an interoperability war being waged, but it is long past time for the industry to call a truce. If we want precision medicine, then we must recognize that interoperability isn’t a ‘want’ – it is an absolute need.

Cybersecurity: Why Now?

Cybersecurity has been a concern since the healthcare industry began to move into the digital age. In 2016, healthcare averaged one data breach per day, according to Protenus Breach Barometer. Recent cyberattacks have changed the game, placing a renewed sense of urgency on making security improvements. Medical device cybersecurity is of particular concern heading into 2017.

The unfortunate reality is that many healthcare organizations assume it is only a matter of time before they will be hit with a cyberattack. As a result, many hospitals are not proactively working to stop a potential security breach. This is a huge concern. We as an industry can no longer afford to simply look the other way. Clinical care units are vulnerable; our personal health data is vulnerable. There is no question that one day we will see a large-scale attack that puts patients at risk, if we do not address cybersecurity concerns head on.

We’re talking about precision medicine, yet we still cannot secure the data that we currently can access. Ensuring that our devices, hospitals, and networks are safe from cyberattacks will be needed to reach the full potential offered by precision medicine.

Keep the Momentum, but Don’t Skip the Basics

We shouldn’t stop the movement toward precision medicine. However, we must recognize that failing to account for interoperability and cybersecurity in the equation will set us up for failure. Having these two foundational factors in place will enable us to dig deeper into data sources, and get the real-time data necessary to have a dramatic impact on personalized care.