The healthcare sector is undoubtedly under the spotlight right now, as the world deals with the myriad challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. One evolving area is the question of how different patient demographics experience the illness, and why certain groups seem much more at risk than others. Might they also respond very different to contrasting treatments and interventions?
Questions like these are at the heart of personalised healthcare, one of the most exciting, diverse and dynamic ongoing developments in the sector.
What is personalised healthcare?
Genomics – the new and rapidly evolving branch of medicine concerned with mapping the sequence of an individual’s genetic material and tailoring medicine accordingly – is the basis for personalised healthcare. It is focused on undertaking advanced analysis of individuals – and diseases – on a molecular level. This is not a brand-new process – it is, for example, how scientists have been able to understand that cancer is not a single disease but rather hundreds of different diseases.
However, with the help of advanced computing techniques such as machine learning, big data analysis, artificial intelligence and even augmented and virtual reality, scientists are able to take this insights into a far more sophisticated era.
Because the precise experiences of individual patients can be collected and analysed en masse, along with myriad different types of data pertaining to their exact profile, scientists are increasingly able to build hugely detailed, sophisticated pictures of how those individual patients respond to particular treatments, and which factors might be at play. In turn, this enables treatments to be tailored to the profile of small groups and even individual patients. It’s all about being able to identify the precise genetic markers which indicate particular responses to diseases – and treatments.
These data are then the critical contributors to an array of next-generation innovations in both diagnostics and treatment, often harnessing IoT-based applications and the devices that use them.
Consider, for example, virtual reality (VR) applications which can help train surgeons and other healthcare practitioners in particular procedures before they undertake them with a patient. If such applications can receive personalised data pertaining to particular patients or conditions, then the virtual experience they offer can be similarly tailored.
Or, return to the subject of genome research. The more datasets can be analysed collectively – not just an individual’s own genetic material, but those of many individuals – the richer and broader the insights researchers can gain into anything from nutrition, to risk factors for particular conditions, to likely disease progression.
The world of personalised healthcare is broad, fast-moving and can genuinely change lives. It will likely play a central role in dealing with many of the world’s greatest health and medical challenges, from keeping populations healthy in growing cities, to tackling emerging diseases and, of course, the pandemics of the future.