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Since President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative in January, precision medicine has been widely discussed among the media, health professionals, and patients.

Of course, precision medicine is not a new topic.  There have been compelling advances for select cancers, for example, but progress has been uneven, fitful and slower than had been imagined.   However, the vision remains compelling and the possibility for progress greater than it has ever been before.   That is why I was so thrilled with the White House initiative.  The timing is great as we are at the confluence of strong market factors at the same time when several of the key barriers to scale up precision medicine are falling away.

Changes in reimbursement models in recent years have been driving the transformation of healthcare from a cottage industry, based on the experience and intuition of an individual physician to a data-driven industry powered by precision and reproducibility.   This can only happen as enterprises develop the capability to effectively capture data, create insight and translate that insight into organizational impact.   In short, data and the ability to effectively leverage it are becoming imperative to enterprise health and longevity.

Despite the clarity of where healthcare organizations need to go, most enterprises are far better at collecting data than in driving value from it.  Big data by itself is just cost.   It only has value when it can be leveraged for better understanding and decision-making.  So why the gap?   Realities of big data in healthcare include large amounts unstructured data, interoperability challenges in uniting disparate data sources, data latency issues and tremendous complexity in creating and maintaining traditional analytics stacks.

The good news is that advances in hardware and in-memory computing platforms allow for dramatic acceleration and simplification of cleansing, integrating and analyzing data to create value.  SAP HANA is able to do this all in-memory and in real-time.   This allows organizations to create insight and impact from their data assets.   But more importantly, it enables the shift from population level and large cohort pathway analysis based on backward looking data to real-time and highly personalized decision-making.  In short, precision-medicine can be incorporated more broadly to utilize larger datasets to further improve
precision.

We are entering an era where a patient’s genetic blueprint, their metabolic fingerprint and physical findings will drive highly personalized decision-making.  This profile will help prevent or attenuate chronic illness through delivery of tailored treatments and behavioral recommendations with the best chance of
success and least chance of complication. Precision medicine ultimately has the potential to improve both quality and quantity of a patient’s life and also have a ripple effect on the economics of the entire healthcare system. With better, faster treatment and less wasted on ineffective therapies, costs will be better controlled.   More effective therapies and better prevention and control of chronic illness will result in fewer and shorter hospital stays and a shift from expensive reactive care to prevention.

As a physician and technologist, one of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to be engaged in cutting edge innovation in the creation of value from big data in healthcare.  Here are a few of my favorite examples of leaders in healthcare who are using HANA to create value from big data in a real-time or near real-time fashion:

  • AmericanSociety of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) is a non-profit, professional oncology society with over 35,000 members globally.  ASCO is transforming care for cancer patients worldwide with CancerLinQ.  Built on SAP HANA platform, CancerLinQ will unlock real-world patient care data from millions of electronic health records and other sources like clinical trial data. Doctors will get new insights in seconds, not years, when they are
    deciding on treatment plans with patients. Eight oncology practices around the U.S. have agreed to provide patient records for the first version of
    CancerLinQ. Seven more large cancer centers will soon join this effort, meaning approximately 500,000 patients will be represented in the first version of CancerLinQ.
  • The National Center of Tumor Disease (NCT) is another of example where precision medicine is helping to provide better, more tailored treatment options.  With SAP, NCT developed Medical Research Insights. This solution enables NCT staff to analyze patient data in real-time using biomarkers as filters, build micro-cohorts of patients with similar genetic markers and demographic and phenotypic characteristics to drive more data-driven decision-making from the treatment options on hand.   NCT is one of the few cancer clinics that houses the newest, state-of-the-art genome sequencing machines. For just a few thousand dollars, the sequencers are able to sequence DNA at unprecedented speeds.   SAP technology then leverages that information, combined with the EHR and cancer registries to better inform care at the point of decision.

With the support of the White House, we are closer to bringing precision medicine to all patients across an ever-broadening disease set.  Certainty there will continue to be hurdles, including ongoing need for investment, improved interoperability and privacy issues.  But the promise of healthcare delivery that is more effective, safer and less expensive is compelling.   We simply can’t afford not to.

Visit the SAP booth #2656 at HIMSS to meet me in person and hear more about how SAP’s technology is helping the healthcare industry transform.

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