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What do primary care physicians need to know about precision medicine?

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The primary idea behind precision medicine is that every patient is different, with different genetic makeups and living in different environments that may affect how effective a particular treatment will be for each person. Precision medicine hones in on the specific genes and environment to determine which medication and dosage level, for example, will work best for managing each person’s disease or condition. The calculation is more precise and dependent on more factors than the traditional measures of age and weight used to determine dosage.

Precision medicine has typically been used when treating an existing condition. Dr. Megan Mahoney, Chief of General Primary Care at Stanford University’s division of Primary Care and Population Health, wants to see precision medicine move “upstream,” to the primary care provider’s office, to help in preventative treatments.

Making a change in today’s healthcare crisis, as Dr. Mahoney sees it, would entail a more team-based approach on the part of the primary care physician. Adding staff to the primary care practice will be important as precision medicine moves to preventative care. The physicians can then “practice at the top of their license, focusing on assessment, diagnosis and treatment rather than administrative tasks.”

Stanford University plans to “begin a yearlong pilot with 50 to 100 patients from demographically and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds, and will identify ways to reach them to offer preventive care and engagement opportunities based on electronic health records dashboards.” The project team will then identify those patients who may benefit from a precision medicine approach to their preventative care in the primary care provider’s office.

The precision medicine approach may also help primary care physicians increase their patient engagement, as they get to know each patient a little better. Taking advantage of technology that enables them to access medical records and visit notes quickly will enable the primary care physician to spend more time with the patient. Understanding the patient’s complete profile can enable the primary care physician to be more effective with the quality of preventative care.