EHFG focuses on future of personalized medicine

The potential of personalized medicine remains underutilized, and healthcare systems do not need further specialized professionals but a "reconfiguration" of health professions, according to presentations given this week at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) in Gastein, Austria.

Personalized medicine will dominate in the future, presenter Dr. Angela Brand of the Institute for Public Health Genomics (IPHG) at the University of Maastricht told conference attendees: A paradigm change is occurring in medical research, due to better understanding of genetic and environmental influences on health and new findings on the interactions of these factors. An important first step is "stratified medicine," Brand said.

"Stratification means, for example, that one defines groups of patients that could derive especially big benefits from a certain therapy," Brand said. "For instance, based on certain genetic traits of a tumor, we can now predict very precisely for many types of cancer whether or not the given patient would benefit from chemotherapy. This is a major advance in light of the well-known stress chemotherapy causes."

Also highlighted at the conference is the need to "reconfigure" health professions rather than further specialize. Health disciplines in the healthcare system are becoming increasingly specialized and segmented owing to cost pressures, as well as the introduction of management and market mechanisms. This development is a dead end for the growing problem of concurrent chronic conditions, known as multimorbidity, according to conference presenters.

Specialization can be effective in fighting acute single diseases, but it is becoming less relevant given the increase in multimorbidity, as it forces patients to seek out a separate specialist for each problem, according to presenter Dr. Thomas Plochg from the University of Amsterdam. This causes a shortage of health professionals such as general practitioners who maintain an overview of diagnosis and treatment and can help patients to navigate through the system.

"We need to stop exploiting the existing expert model underpinning healthcare provision, and start exploring the reconfiguration of this model instead," Plochg told conference attendees. "'Multimorbidity' physicians and nurses [are key to] the future."

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