Imagine that the next time your doctor orders a round of tests, in addition to cholesterol and vitamin D, she also orders a genome sequence. It sounds like science fiction, but the day might come sooner than you think.
Precision medicine—in which each patient’s prevention and treatment decisions are tailored for them—has been a buzzword in the health care industry recently. President Barack Obama launched his Precision Medicine Initiative, and other countries have similar projects underway.
With concerns about the cost of health care, though, can we afford precision medicine?
In certain instances, precision medicine can actually save money. For example, if patients can be screened for drug hypersensitivity before being prescribed certain drugs, they won’t have to be treated later, which is better for patients and cuts down on costs. A similar approach works for choosing treatments.
“When you use a therapy to target only the individuals who will benefit, you avoid wasting drugs or other resources on people who you know won’t get any benefit, and who might actually be harmed,” said David Threadgill, Ph.D., professor and holder of the Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of the Texas A&M Institute for Genome Sciences and Society.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. “Whether the economics works out in favor of precision medicine depends on two things: the difficulty and the cost of finding the best candidates who will benefit from specific, tailored treatments,” said Robert L. Ohsfeldt, Ph.D., health economist and professor in the Department of Health Policy & Management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. “You have to know a lot about the disease process and how individual characteristics—genetics and environmental factors like diet or exposure to toxins—mediate the treatment response.”
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Health economics helps insurers, health care systems and providers make treatment decisions based on the cost of extra “units” of health arising from a specific treatment. By calculating the cost for each year of life or quality-adjusted year of life gained, these groups can decide whether changing treatments or adding in a new treatment beyond the existing standard of care is “worth it.”
However, while the resulting incremental cost effectiveness ratio (ICER) is often presented as an absolute measure upon which to base these decisions, an opinion published by University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, and Adam Atherly, PhD, suggests that the consumers of these data need to be much more aware of the assumptions underlying these calculations.
“Increasingly physicians are being presented with health economic analyses in mainstream medical journals as a means of potentially influencing their prescribing. However, it is only when you understand the multiple assumptions behind these calculations that you can see that they are by no means absolute truths,” Camidge says.
The Therapeutic Paradox: What’s Right for the Population May Not Be Right for the Patient By SCOTT ABEREGG, MD
“An article in this week’s New York Times called Will This Treatment Help Me? There’s a Statistic for that highlights the disconnect between the risks (and risk reductions) that epidemiologists, researchers, guideline writers, the pharmaceutical industry, and policy wonks think are significant and the risks (and risk reductions) patients intuitively think are significant enough to warrant treatment….
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Last week, the NY Times ran story about how the Harvard University healthcare plan is raising various employee costs in an effort to lower costs–this is partly a response to various Obamacare/ACA policies (boldface mine):
The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.
Previously, Harvard employees paid a portion of insurance premiums and had low out-of-pocket costs when they received care.
Why? If you’re sick and able to pay, you will get the treatment in most cases. It’s worth the money–being able to afford medical treatment is one reason people like having money. Most people just aren’t that cheap when it comes to their health. But if you’re unable to pay, you won’t get treatment–even if you need it. The latter will lower healthcare costs–less fortunate people won’t get treatment–but so would shooting sick people in the head. And if you don’t believe me, those radicals at the Boston Federal Reserve seem to think so as well.
Excerpt from the commentary by M. Christopher Roebuck, PhD, MBA