Survey: Moving Forward on Precision Medicine Requires the Right IT Tools and Talent

May 6, 2016
Healthcare providers envision personalized medicine having a major influence on their organizations in the next two years, but it will require investing in the right technologies, like data analytics, and the right talent and skills sets.

Healthcare providers envision personalized medicine having a major influence on their organizations in the next two years, but it will require investing in technologies, like data analytics, and the right talent, including bio-informaticians, according to a new survey.

A new research report from economic analysis firm Oxford Economics and enterprise application software vendor SAP examines the growing impact of personalized medicine and what healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations are doing to accelerate precision medicine. The research includes a survey of 120 healthcare professionals at institutions in Europe and North America, as well as in-depth interviews. Respondents included physicians, researchers, administrators and executives.

The personalized medicine revolution is well under way, the report authors state, with rapid growth and maturation expected in the next two years. “Investment is on the rise, including high-visibility programs like the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative announced in 2015 by the Obama administration and a series of projects supported by the European Union. Yet substantial challenges remain to be addressed if personalized medicine is to deliver on its potential,” the report authors wrote.

Precision medicine is transforming healthcare by using genetics, genomics, and big data to move beyond one-size-fits-all models of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. This individualized care promises improved patient outcomes, cost savings, and greater efficiency across the healthcare system, but it also poses substantial challenges, according to the research report.

Among the key findings in the “Healthcare Gets Personal” report were that early results of personalized medicine initiatives are promising and aspirations are high. More than two-thirds of survey respondents (68 percent) say precision medicine is already having a measurable effect on patient outcomes, and 74 percent expect it will have an impact on their organization in the next two years.

Healthcare organizations are prioritizing the following illness and conditions relative to personalized medicine programs—diabetes (45 percent), common cancers (38 percent), neurological diseases (33 percent), cardiovascular conditions (28 percent), again (24 percent), autoimmune diseases (20 percent) and rare or orphan cancers (12 percent). And healthcare organizations surveyed indicated that they anticipate that their focus on these particular conditions will increase in the next two years as part of their personalized medicine programs. For instance, 63 percent of healthcare organizations highlighted diabetes as one area that they will be focused on in two years.

The survey also found that improving efficiency of care and lowering costs are the two leading forces driving the personalized medicine shift.

However, personalized medicine programs require new infrastructure, support systems, and governance, yet organizations are still learning to share data and interact with newly empowered patients, while preparation for regulatory changes remains a work in progress.

At a basic level, this can mean creating facilities like biobanks that support specialized work in genetic research and to collect tissue or blood samples, the report authors wrote. “The way these samples must be handled illustrates some of the governance issues raised by personalized medicine. There are new angles on privacy when genetic information makes it possible to identify patients directly from their tissue samples. And new ways of using data must conform to rules set by bodies like the extremely powerful US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), while also complying with privacy laws that can vary by jurisdiction,” the report authors wrote.

High-level changes to privacy and security strategies to fit this new model are common, but personal protections are a work in progress. To address these issues, 64 percent survey respondents have changed their privacy policies to reflect the increasingly personalized nature of research and treatment, 60 percent have increased the security of patient data and 47 percent are changing their institutional culture to reflect new privacy and security challenges. However, only 30 percent of respondents state that they are able to protect the identity of individual patients involved in personalized trials or treatments.

Information technology is a critical component of personalized medicine and the volume of data to be shared means old mechanisms of capturing, storing and analyzing it are no longer adequate, according to the report. So, building out IT capabilities is an essential next step. “Getting multiple systems to work together is critical, for example, electronic medical records (EMR) may need to interact with databases of genetic information, creating an integration challenge that pushes IT departments to find solutions,” the report authors wrote.

The right technology and IT tools are imperative to effectively implement personalized medicine programs. To this end, survey respondents are expecting to make substantial investments in a number of technologies, such as analytics of Big Data (44 percent), predictive analytics (43 percent), Big Data capture and storage (41 percent), tools for data sharing across departments and organizations (38 percent), collaboration tools (37 percent), scenario analysis (35 percent), mobile tools (22 percent), decision-support tools (19 percent), visualization tools (11 percent) and patient-facing technologies (4 percent).

The right talent also will be necessary to make these innovations effective, including high-end skilled workers such as bio-informaticians, computational biologists and biostatisticians. The research indicates that basic IT skills are also needed.

When asked to what extent their organizations have the talent and skills needed to develop and sustain personalized medicine research and practice, 74 percent said they were fully or mostly equipped for data science, but only half said they were equipped with specialized expertise. And, only half said they were sufficiently equipped with an IT strategy and IT support to develop and sustain personalized medicine. Well under half of respondents say they have the analytics skills they need, and only one-third have the necessary programmers.

Another challenge is that business models are not fully developed, but the economic case for personalized medicine is maturing, the report states, and optimism is growing about revenue growth and profitability over the next two years.

The report also offers a number of recommendations for healthcare organizations to effectively make the shift to personalized medicine. “More than ever before, every aspect of disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment depends on having the technology and scientific framework to tailor care to individual patients using clinical data and genomic information. But getting personalized medicine right depends on more than just science and technology,” the report authors wrote.

Healthcare organizations need to develop strategies to deal with cultural shifts around data sharing, whether among healthcare organizations or between patients and their doctors. And, healthcare organization leaders need to emphasize patient involvement throughout each step of the treatment process, as their data and feedback will be essential to individualized care, according to the report authors.

In addition, healthcare organizations should increase collaboration among physicians, researchers and pharmaceuticals companies. And, it is necessary for organizations to prepare for regulatory changes and shifts in workplace skills. And, the report authors recommend that healthcare leaders ensure the proper tools are in place to support data analytics, collaboration and security.

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