Sunday, December 10, 2017

Personalizing Personalized Medicine

What is personalization? Its making things for the individual. This is seen all the time online. If you visit Amazon's website and search for toothpicks, you will start seeing ads for toothpicks popping up all the time. Until you search for something else.... Amazon's site is responding to your needs by reminding you about your recent search - meeting your needs.

Personalizing personalized medicine means not doing the same thing over and over again, and taking into account patient's individual needs. However, we talk about personalized medicine and then discuss starting mammogram screening for all women at age 40. Where is the personalized part of that? Its just changing the requirement for insurance companies. And no mention of who pays for the additional screenings.

Take this opinion for example, from Dr Montijo on Clinical Advisor:

"I am often concerned about articles summarizing screening mammography data. Without fail, organizations that materially benefit most from performing mammography conclude and advocate more frequent and earlier screening mammography. Organizations composed of primary care or with minimal material benefit conclude that a more conservative screening program and more personalization, such as shared decision making, has the greatest net benefit. The cost alone, from the most aggressive screening design to the most conservative design, is in the billions of dollars. No tradeoff analysis of alternative uses of such cost is entertained."

Again, just because we can, doesn't mean we should all the time.

"Mammography started in the early 1950s with a study from HIP of New York, among others. The use of screening mammography increased precipitously during the ensuing decades typical of new technology, often for assumed or wished for benefits. A major industry was born. As happens with most new technologies, finding the optimal use or non-use takes time but almost always perseveres past the optimal benefit point or in some cases full retirement."

I am not saying mammography does not have its benefits. It does. Some women should start screenings early. Maybe in their 20s - I had a benign lump at 23 and have had annual mammograms since. My breast cancer was found at age 45. And another benign lump appeared at age 46. I am someone who needed mammograms starting young. But this does not apply to everyone. 

In my opinion, anyone who is BRCA positive or has a family history of breast cancer should have annual screenings start at age 25 even. That should not be a discussion, but should be a standard for those women. I am sure there are other cases like this where mammograms should start early.

This is a basic idea to start a personalization discussion with an individual patient. But a global requirement for everyone doesn't help. Mammograms have a financial cost but also the cost of missed time at work for the patient to go to the appointment as well as emotional stress for the patient.

We need much more personalization if we are to make any progress in this area.

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