What the all of us research program can do for all of us

My passion for medicine — helping others and improving the lives of families and future generations — is one that I share with all of my American Academy of Family Physician colleagues.

Family physicians are the front line of medical care for many people in the United States. We are typically the first resource you turn to if a fever spikes, there’s a persistent cough, or someone experiences a new or unsettling pain. Families trust us and turn to us for medical treatments, as well as for advice and guidance on preventive care. This unique position drives us to explore and adopt new technologies, treatments and methodologies as we continue our pursuit of transforming health care to achieve optimal health for everyone.

Our deep interest in medicine, and our mission to improve the health of our patients, lead us to a new partnership that we believe will enhance how we deliver care. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently launched the All of Us Research Program, a new study that aims to change the future of precision medicine. If you’re not familiar with it, precision medicine is an approach to health care decision-making based on an individual’s unique genes, environment and lifestyle. It takes into account factors like where you live and your family health history. It has been the focus of a movement within the medical field for years and has already yielded some success in the fight to cure many diseases, including cancer. Beyond just finding treatments for those who are ill, precision medicine may also hold the answers to preventive measures in helping people stay healthy and understanding why they get sick.

As an organization comprised of family physicians, we feel an especially deep commitment to finding these answers — we have all seen families devastated by a terminal diagnosis or an incurable disease, accompanied by the desperate search for answers. This is why we’re so passionate and excited about All of Us; we want to be a part of something that has the possibility to change the way we practice medicine, and potentially change the future of health care as we know it.

Unlike many studies that focus on a specific disease or population, All of Us is collecting a broad range of data and will serve as a national resource to inform many different studies covering a wide variety of health conditions. These studies will help researchers learn more about how individual differences can influence health and disease going forward. This domino effect on medical research could lead to future breakthroughs, advancing health care for generations to come.

An important hallmark of the program is its commitment to diversity. Up until now, medical research – and, more importantly, the treatments and cures developed as a result – have not adequately reflected the diversity and diverse needs of the United States. All of Us is committed to changing this so that no community is left behind. Family physicians are on the front lines of delivering care in every neighborhood across the nation. A diverse group of doctors serving diverse communities deserves medical treatments to match.

Another distinguishing feature of the project is its duration; it aims to run for 10 years or more to develop as comprehensive a picture of health as possible. Engaging in in-depth and longitudinal research is never easy, but it’s an exciting feeling to be part of something as rewarding and potentially life-changing as All of Us.

All of Us is an important step to helping us – as doctors, families, and community members – deliver the best possible health care in the most precise way. Our members are trusted family doctors in their communities who are dedicated to advancing the way we diagnose and treat disease. We know how important research of this magnitude will be for the future of health care, which is why our organization is committed to learning as much as we can about the program.

I am optimistic about what this research can do for medicine and for families around the country and know that my AAFP colleagues join me in this belief. We fully trust and support All of Us, and our physicians are here to answer any questions that patients may have.

Julie K. Wood, Senior Vice President of Health of the Public and Interprofessional Activities, American Academy of Family Physicians.

Julie K. Wood, MD, MPH, FAAFP, became the senior vice president of health of the public and interprofessional activities in 2013 after a lengthy period of member service with the AAFP, including serving on its board of directors. Wood oversees AAFP efforts to involve family physicians with integration of primary care and public health, health equity, population and community health, as well as global health. Prior to joining the AAFP staff, Wood was a practicing family physician for nearly 20 years, starting out as a solo rural family physician in her hometown of Macon, Missouri and then residency faculty at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City.

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