THE BLOG

Healthcare Needs a Personal Touch

06/03/2014 11:51 GMT | Updated 05/05/2014 10:59 BST

Healthcare should be "predictive, preventative, precise and personal" - so says Eric Dishman, Intel Fellow and general manager of Intel's Health and Life Sciences Group. I couldn't agree more.

These words are taken from comments Dishman made to me (and just a few thousand others) at the influential HIMSS14 event in Florida highlighting inspirational work around personalised care. It's not just about treating conditions; it's about treating an individual - recognizing their personality, behaviour and biology, even their specific genetic profile, and developing tailored treatment plans accordingly.

The potential for this model is exciting. It could save lives, save time and ultimately re-shape the way we think about care. Is this just optimistic future gazing? No, it isn't. And that's what's most exciting.

In every single area of our daily lives, technology is heading in one direction - towards the individual. My online experience, whether via smartphone, tablet, TV or any other device, is tailored to match my needs and my habits. Social media means that even my consumption of news and events can be delivered and digested as a bespoke package that improves my overall experience. It's time to think of healthcare in the same way.

The genetic sequencing that Dishman supports takes the concept to its logical, and hopefully successful, extreme. I discussed the practicalities of personalised (but affordable) genetic sequencing further in a one-to-one with Andrew Ury MD at HIMSS. Andrew is pioneering the embedding in electronic health records of genetic information derived from a tiny saliva sample.

This is a fascinating concept with huge potential, but at the other end of the spectrum, there are already many ways in which the principles of personalised care can and should be applied to the more everyday.

People are already becoming more familiar with being able to monitor, track and sync their biometric data - you only have to look at the wearable technology trends emerging from the recent Mobile World Congress to see that. Imagine the benefit of GPs working with patients in response to these very individual pockets of information.

For those of us who want to use the ubiquitous communication devices we already own rather than buying dedicated kit, Apps such as Patient.co.uk's Diabetes Manager are a good example of what can already be done in this field. This enables the user to record vital data including blood glucose, blood pressure, activity levels and weight fluctuations. It not only helps personal condition management but also generates ready-made discussion points for GP review that can then shape or amend long-term treatment plans.

A personalised approach to healthcare would certainly call for more developments along these lines. But it's also clear to me that for this approach to really work - more than one level of connection is needed.

Yes, it is about technology helping clinicians to better understand their patients' individual needs - psychologically and biologically. But there are many stops on an individual patient's care journey, and unless all these 'stops' are also connected, the capacity to deliver a personalised care programme to its full potential is, in my view, threatened.

GP, community nurse, specialist hospital clinician, pharmacist; these individuals are all likely to have a key role to play in delivering a comprehensive care programme for a patient living with a long-term illness but without greater levels of information integration, they simply cannot deliver a care package that is uniquely tailored to an individual, no matter how unique or bespoke the original data is.

Yet again then we come down to the importance of joined up care - not just for improving healthcare as we know it, but for shaping healthcare as we could come to know it.