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In Defense of Precision Medicine

By Lee DeOrio

Like any profession, HIT has its stable of well-known names and dynamic personalities who have become de facto industry spokespeople. Among the most engaging is John Halamka, MD, chief information officer of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Halamka, along with copresenter Paul Cerrato, a medical journalist, hosted a presentation exploring the hype surrounding precision medicine. Is the movement a game-changer? Halamka and Cerrato believe so.

First, Cerrato debunked four objections to precision medicine: high costs, a lack of interoperability, it's already being practiced, and few clinical benefits. He agreed current medicine is personalized—up to a point. Machine learning is poised to base care on a collective experience and offer an unbiased perspective, he said.

Halamka was the star of the show. During the second half of the presentation, his easygoing, affable style shined as he regaled the audience with personal stories of how precision medicine is the future of health care. Of course, he couldn’t let the opportunity slip by without also commenting on the recently introduced interoperability framework (it dictates the technology to use—not good), how to improve EHRs (surround them with specialized apps), and the current administration (he provided its time left in office down to the second).

At the end, Halamka’s examples of real-life experiences (his wife’s battle with thyroid issues and a veterinarian friend’s late-night call about a young girl’s odd behavior) made precision medicine seem more like a real possibility instead of some pie-in-the-sky wish.

— Lee DeOrio is editor of For The Record.