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A conversation on the promises and challenges of precision health

At a Town Hall event here on campus earlier this week, three faculty members explored the prospects for precision health — health care whose goal is to anticipate and prevent disease in the healthy and precisely diagnose and treat disease in the ill. Among the speakers was Mary Hawn, MD, professor and chair of surgery; as my colleague Jennie Dusheck explained in an online article today:

[Hawn] discussed how precision health could help surgeons better understand their patients’ risk factors for surgery and mitigate those risks. “We know we aren’t going to get the same outcome from surgery for every single patient,” she said. Health-care providers have to know individual patients and what their individual risks might be. At the same time, providers need to be able to communicate that information to patients and their families, so they can make decisions that feel right to them. Ideally, Hawn said, “We can see what risks the patient is bringing to the table and mitigate those risks.”

“We surgeons have been humbled by biology. We think we can do a great operation, but in the end, the biology wins,” Hawn said. “So, knowing that upfront, we can have a much more frank conversation with a patient about how invasive, how radical an operation to have..."

In a panel discussion moderated by Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, geneticist Michael Snyder, MD, and Mark Cullen, MD, a population-health scientist, also weighed in on how clinicians can take advantage of large health data sets and advances in genomics to benefit their patients.

Previously: How Stanford Medicine will "develop, define and lead the field of precision health", At Big Data in Biomedicine, Stanford’s Lloyd Minor focuses on precision health, and Global health and precision medicine: Highlights from day two of Stanford’s Childx conference
Photo, of Mary Hawn and Mark Cullen (left), by Norbert von der Groeben

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