“When I go to a doctor now, he will examine me, diagnose me, write a prescription which I will take to the pharmacist, who will then give me my medicines that are mass-produced. In the future, I will still consult a doctor, and together, we will decide about the treatment. Based on my genome sequence, the doctor can choose the right dose, design a blueprint, send that to the pharmacist who will 3D print my medicines.”
Will this be the future of healthcare? It will be, according to the medical futurist, Dr. Bertalan Meskó. In his book The Guide to the Future of Medicine: Technology and the Human Touch he discusses 22 trends that are going to shape the future of healthcare.
Personalized medicine is one of them. “We are at the verge of a truly meaningful use of personalized medicine”, Meskó said. “All around the world you see promising examples in the fields of lung cancer, breast cancer and many other research areas.”
Expectations were too high
The actual clinical use of personalized medicine has taken longer than expected: “In 2003, when the human genome project was completed, the expectations were really high. Actually too high. At the moment we are looking at some 150 examples in which genomics can bring actual added value to medicine with evidence in the background.”
Complexity is the main reason for the slow development of personalized medicine. “We thought that if we had genetic data, it would be easy to predict the responsiveness to certain treatments. After thousands of scientific papers, we found that it is not that simple; there is a whole range of genetic components that make people receptive to lung cancer, and their lifestyle has a tremendous influence on the chance that they will actually develop the disease. There is a saying: genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger. Even with the best genetic background you can get diseases, so your genes are not deterministic in every way.”
Dealing with the information overload
The clinical use of biomarkers will accelerate in the coming years, and the way they will be applied in practice will be part of a bigger transformation. “There is a whole range of technologies that will impact our healthcare system, including personalized medicine, 3D printing but also the Internet. This is perhaps the biggest barrier for traditional medical practitioners: their lack of digital literacy. As a medical professional, you will have to be able to deal with the information overload and communicate online. This is such a basic skill, you cannot be expected to deal with genetic data if you can’t even keep up-to-date about your field of interest.”
During a recent TEDx presentation Bertalan Meskó talked about how the lack of digital skills struck him ever since he went to medical school:
“I went to medical school to become a medical geneticist. Surprisingly, my professors started telling me they didn’t want to deal with the Internet or social media, because then they would have to deal with the information overload. Me, as a first year medical student back then, had to tell them the truth: everyone has to deal with the information overload. We just need to be better at filtering it online.”
Meskó strongly believes in the power of social networks to filter information and even crowdsource diagnosis: “Once you are connected to people online and you trust their expertise, you are able to work together on a diagnosis and benefit from each others’ knowledge.”
There is still a digital gap to be bridged, though: “Medical professionals are not that eager yet to share knowledge online. But this will be the only way forward; look at how patients are already searching for information online. Only if we become their partners in this process, we will be able to deliver the healthcare of the future.”
Bio Dr. Bertalan Meskó
- Bertalan Meskó graduated from the University of Debrecen, Medical School and Health Science Center in 2009 with Weszprémy Award; and received PhD in clinical genomics in 2012.
- He has been running the multiple award-winning medical blog, Scienceroll, since November, 2007, and had over 4 million hits.
- He launched the first university elective coursein the world that focuses on web 2.0 and medicine for medical students. He has given over 300 presentations from the Yale, Stanford and Harvard University to the centre of the World Health Organization; and is a health 2.0 consultant for pharma and medical technology companies.
- He was included in the Healthspottr Future Health 100 Listand is the founder of Webicina.com.