We live in a complex modern world. Within this complex world lies another one that is most dear and personal to us, but also worries us. I’m talking about our present and future health.
We are spending our way to bankruptcy treating modern diseases. Despite that extraordinary spending and the rapidly progressing caliber of our people and technology, modern disease rates are climbing seemingly beyond our reach. Not even the United States, the most technologically advanced society in history, has been able to stem this tide.
Consider this example: one in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. That means that if you have two daughters, like I do, between your wife, mother and children, there is a 50/50 chance that one of them will have breast cancer in her lifetime. Depending on when the cancer is discovered, early or late, the 5-year survival rate is either 25% or 75%. We can and must do better. We now have the knowledge and resources to do it.
The best glimmer of hope is personalized medicine - most recently referred to as precision medicine. Whatever the label, the idea is simple and powerful - individually tailored diagnoses and treatments instead of the traditional “one size fits all” approach.
The real potential of personalized medicine is prevention since preventing disease is much more effective and cheaper than treating it after it occurs. We know that prevention works when we focus on it. We have produced amazing advances in fighting what I call “pre-modern diseases,” such as infectious diseases. Vaccines that prevent infectious diseases are the reason why you rarely hear their names today. Just think about it - how often do you hear of outbreaks of typhus or rabies in your neighborhood? Now, how many people do you know that are affected by cancer?
Prevention also makes sense for modern diseases. But, our society has not yet committed to playing the long game. Right now the vast majority of healthcare spending is focused on treating symptoms after someone gets sick, rather than on preventing illness before it occurs. The fact is that nobody has more vested interest in your own health than you. Not your government. Not your insurance company. Not your employer. This means that if prevention matters to you, you have to lead the way. It all starts with you. That is Healthcare 2.0.
I am not talking about gadgets that you wear to keep track of superficial health stats. I am talking about predictive tools, not in some distant future, but using your genetic information as a blueprint for your health. Your genetic family history, and not just what your mom and uncle decided to tell you. You are a genetic mosaic of your ancestors, and this information is important and actionable.
This is not about finding out what you will die from or when, but knowing what to monitor and possibly prevent. More conditions are inheritable then you probably know, including 60-80% of Autism, 55% of Alcoholism, and 55% of eating disorders, and that’s just a minute snapshot. By knowing your genetics, you can focus on changing your destiny. Genes are not your fate.
It is true that we don’t yet know everything there is to know about our genes. But, for many genetic traits we know enough. Not wanting to know about your genes because the picture is incomplete is like looking at a 1,000 piece puzzle and saying that 300 pieces are not in the right place yet, so we can’t tell definitively what it is. Well, we have a pretty good idea.
The real power of Healthcare 2.0 is in its big data, anonymous data in almost all cases. Scientists are a force for good and have long fought the evil forces of disease to move us forward. By doing the right thing for yourself, getting sequenced and understanding your DNA, you will be able to contribute your anonymous data to scientific research that will move the needle in unprecedented ways, for all of us.
This is how we change our destiny, make our healthcare system work for us, and why we should celebrate the progress we have made and that is to come. Every day.