Precision Medicine Spreading Among US Hospitals

Ken Terry

September 07, 2016

Nearly a third of healthcare organizations are engaged in some kind of precision medicine research, according to a recent survey that focused on larger hospitals and healthcare systems. The poll was conducted by HIMSS Analytics, the research arm of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

The survey defined precision medicine as "an approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person."

Twenty-nine percent of the 137 respondents said their institutions were involved in precision medicine, and 34% said their organizations were not. Thirty-seven percent were unsure whether precision medicine was on their organizational agenda.

HIMSS Analytics viewed the relatively small percentage of healthcare organizations that were doing precision medicine as an indication that this technological approach is in an early stage. "The limited adoption of precision medicine programs across the U.S. hospital market is understandable as very few organizations have the funds, technology or expertise to conduct precision medicine on site," the report said.

The bulk of precision medicine programs were located at academic medical centers (35%), multihospital health systems (25%), and organizations with more than 500 beds (41%).

Considering the types of organizations that responded to the web-based poll, the percentage of all hospitals involved in precision medicine is probably less than 29%. Of the organizations represented in the survey, 62% had more than 250 beds. Thirty-six percent were multihospital health systems, 13% were academic medical centers, and 10% were integrated delivery systems. Just 29% were standalone hospitals.

Cancer Gets Most Attention

The largest area of focus for precision medicine efforts was cancer, with 80% of respondents saying their organizations were doing research in that area. The report suggested two reasons for this emphasis. First, because cancer is a genomic disease, "work can be done on tumors to understand genetic changes that go along with an individual's specific cancer." Second, a large chunk of the funds that President Obama earmarked for his Precision Medicine Initiative has gone to the National Cancer Institute, which makes grants to researchers.

Launched in 2015, the Precision Medicine Initiative is designed to accelerate biomedical discoveries and provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for individual patients. Of the $215 million allotted to this initiative in the Obama administration's 2016 budget, $130 million went to the National Institutes of Health for a national, large-scale prospective cohort study.

Cancer isn't the only area in which healthcare organizations are beginning to use precision medicine. The HIMSS Analytics report found that 39% of organizations are investigating precision medicine's use in neurology, 31% in prenatal screening, 28% in cardiology, and 10% in epidemiology.

Precision medicine requires advanced forms of health information technology, including genomic sequencing and big data techniques to compare large cohorts of patients. By seeing how patients with similar characteristics were treated and how they fared, it's possible to predict which medications or other treatments might work best for particular patients. But this takes a huge amount of data crunching and analytic programs that only the largest organizations possess.

Therefore, it is not surprising that, in HIMSS Analytics' adoption model for analytics, "personalized medicine & prescriptive analytics" occupy stage 7, the highest level in the model.

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