New technology eases adoption of precision medicine initiative

Last year, President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative with the goal of accelerating biomedical research and precision medicine.

As part of the initiative, a research study will build a cohort of more than 1 million participants who reflect the diversity of the U.S. population and who will allow researchers to collect and use their medical data, biospecimens, and lifestyle information.

This cohort will hopefully provide insights into many important healthcare questions. For example, by correlating genomics and environmental factors with disease onset and progression, researchers may develop ways to prevent disease and improve treatment outcomes.

To make this kind of large-scale effort possible, the federal government has allocated $215 million in fiscal 2016 to the National Institutes of Health for the development of the initiative's Cohort Program. Healthcare provider organizations, or HPOs, will play a critical role in developing the cohort; their responsibilities will include recruitment, consent, medical examination, follow-ups, and sharing research results with participants.

Healthcare organizations are, of course, concerned about balancing research engagement with their core mission of providing patient care. Therefore, their ability to participate in research programs like the Precision Medicine Initiative — as well as many others — may hinge on leveraging new technologies that minimize strain on day-to-day operations.

One possible example: Querying electronic health records and other clinical data can reduce the effort needed to identify patients who are eligible for studies. Tracking consent status in the electronic health record can also support HPOs' abilities to monitor changes over time and to intercept biospecimens that may be critical to specific studies. New platforms, such as the Clinical Data Network for Research, are already helping HPOs overcome the traditional constraints of research participation.

With those new opportunities, healthcare providers might eventually be able to provide specialized, individual care — which could lead to better outcomes for patients — without exhausting their resources.

Ultimately, today's technological innovation makes broader participation in initiatives like the PMI more feasible. It unites key stakeholders — patients, hospitals, and researchers — to work together toward better patient health and improved outcomes.

Kate Torchilin is CEO of Novaseek, a health technology company that matches consenting patients with healthcare organizations, sharing biospecimens and clinical data to meet research needs. Kate has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Tufts University, and Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Moscow State University in Russia.

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