As advancements in technology come faster and faster, it is clear that we are entering the age of Big Data. There are software programs, apps, and even legislations that are all pushing for the digitizing of medical records and patient information. This is marketed as helpful for both patients and providers, and it’s true that there are many things out there making our nursing jobs easier. While we are often tasked with the manual digitization of records, we also benefit from working more closely with patients who are more aware of their health situation than before.
The push for putting everything online or running everything through technology can be frustrating, sure, but it’s also creating a pathway that will lead to personalized medicine. If you aren’t familiar, personalized medicine is essentially custom-tailored care and treatment for patients with unique requirements and needs. Want to know more? Keep reading.
If you look at an older hospital or clinic, chances are that you’ll see stacks and shelves of folders containing patient records. All the test results, contact information, and health history were recorded with paper and pen. However, in 2009, the Obamacare stimulus package encouraged hospitals to make these records available digitally instead.
Once this started happening, it was clear that healthcare was able to be more streamlined. Records were more easily shared between providers, which made transition periods a lot easier for everyone. With each provider able to log notes and diagnoses on the digital records, communication became faster, which meant patients had to wait less time between visits, diagnoses, and treatments.
Genetics of the Future
In 2003, the human genome was sequenced. This meant that teams of scientists were able to find out the entire order of DNA bases in the human genetic makeup. This has greatly advanced biological research in various fields. On a more personal level, DNA sequencing of the human genome helps determine individual gene sequences, which can reveal cancer or other genetic diseases. And now, the cost of such individual sequencing has decreased continuously, making genetic testing more readily available to more people. Understanding your own personal genetic makeup means that customized healthcare is not so far off into the future.
The Growing Need for Infrastructure
With genetic sequencing becoming more of an option for many people, there is a growing need to set up infrastructure to make sure all of this technology is used appropriately. For example, now that a person can have their genetic testing done, it might be possible to connect their actual sequence to their electronic health records. Before digitizing these records, this would never have been an option, since there is simply far too much information to attach to a paper file. Once a patient’s sequence is available, they become prime candidates for receiving personalized health care; customized medications, doses, and other treatments can then offer better results than current generic recommendations based on symptoms.
Recommending and prescribing medications is not an exact science. There are a lot of options, many of them quite similar, and lots of pharmaceutical companies that lobby for doctors to recommend their products. It’s no secret that doctors often over-prescribe medications because of this. With customized sequencing and digital health records, however, there will be fewer mis-prescriptions and doses. Instead, patients and doctors will both be able to know the root cause of the complaints and be able to address them directly. This will also limit the medical experimentation that often occurs before the correct medication is tried and found successful.
Of course, with every new advancement in technology and medicine, there will be obstacles that prevent customized medicine from being implemented. Currently, there is a debate on whether such personal information like an individual’s genetic sequence should be attached to their medical record. While this opens the doorway to personalized medicine that could greatly benefit a person, it is argued that it can be used against a person or that no one should have that particular information in the first place.
However, many of the laws regarding patient information sharing were put into place well before the extended use of electronic health records, so they don’t necessarily reflect modern opinion or necessity.
It is becoming more clear as time passes that we are well on our way to personalized medical treatment for individuals. With the ability to consolidate patient information electronically combined with the advancements in DNA sequencing, better treatment is not far off. As long as legislation catches up to the new methods, we should see personalized care in the very near future.