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Finding the heart of precision health

figureWhen I first started working at Stanford Medicine last July, my new bosses explained that part of the reason I was hired was that they needed someone to write about precision health. I didn’t know exactly what precision health was, but I was game — and one of my first assignments was to write a story for the next issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.

To educate myself, I decided that each time I talked with a faculty member about their work, I would end the interview by asking them to tell me what they thought precision health was. I also began attending meetings of the Precision Health Committee, a group of about 30 faculty and administrators working on a shared vision for the future of patient care, medical education, and research at Stanford Medicine. Gradually, I came to understand that precision health is a vision for anticipating and preventing disease in the healthy and precisely diagnosing and treating disease in the ill.

Precision health is also a blending of the traditional one patient-one doctor diagnosis and treatment with a population health approach that emphasizes prevention. It's a vision with a lot of frontiers, from wearables, big data, genomics and new analytics to encryption and privacy issues. As Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, summed it up for my story:

Our vision is that a doctor can tailor every therapy specifically to what’s known about a patient: their genetics, their metabolomics, all their -omics, their imaging, everything about them. At Stanford, we want to live in a world where health-care providers aren’t left on their own to somehow aggregate all that information. Instead, information technology helps a doctor to confidently tell the patient, ‘You are going to benefit most from doing the following.’ We know it will take a sea change in training the doctors of the future, but the benefits will be massive.

Given all this, my story had the potential to sprawl wildly, and in fact it wasn't long before my "3,000-word article" was pushing 6,000. Fortunately, I had patient and determined editors. In the end, we got it under control. And more than one person told me that my story helped them better understand the vision of precision health. 

Previously: Precision health: a special report from Stanford Medicine magazine, Aim higher: Dean Lloyd Minor calls for widespread embrace of precision health and How Stanford Medicine will “develop, define and lead the field of precision health”
Illustration by Harry Campbell

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