Your Guide To Personalized Medicine and How It Benefits You

personalized medicine: doctor talking to an elderly patient

Data shows that the industry demand for personalized medicine is rapidly increasing in the United States and around the world. In 2014 alone, 20% of FDA-approved drugs were appropriate for personalized medicine [1]. This percentage will only increase as pharmaceutical companies double their R&D investments.

But for all its benefits, most people are unaware of the concept of individualized patient care. Six out of 10 individuals have never heard of personalized medicine [2]. Obviously, there needs to be more education on what personalized medicine is and how it benefits you.

In this article, we will answer these two questions and share what a personalized medicine doctor does. More importantly, we will dive into the differences between personalized and traditional medicines to help you make a more informed decision on which is best for your health system.

What Is Personalized Medicine?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [3], personalized medicine is “an innovative approach to tailoring disease prevention and treatment that takes into account differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles.” Using diagnostic tests to identify biomarkers, this precise health information helps healthcare providers and patients make the right treatment decision. It’s also why personalized medicine is commonly referred to as genomic medicine or precision medicine by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [4].

Besides disease treatment, personalized medicine also forays into disease prevention. Through artificial intelligence, clinical trials, and diagnostic tests, this advanced healthcare model subcategorizes individuals into different patient groups based on distinctions in biomarkers and lifestyle factors. Healthcare providers can then better identify at-risk individuals for certain health conditions.

For instance, the CDC’s current guidelines for colorectal cancer screening in healthy individuals only consider family history and age. They recommend that everyone go for regular colorectal cancer screening from age 50 onward [5]. 

However, a study shows that when environmental exposure and genetic variations were also included, the recommended starting ages for colorectal cancer screening differed by as much as 12-14 years. More importantly, the personalized disease prevention strategies are more accurate in identifying would-be colorectal cancer individuals [6].

It’s crucial to note that personalized medicine does not mean exclusive drug developments for an individual patient, i.e., a new medicine is created to treat their symptoms. Instead, it aims to provide the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

Patients, healthcare professionals, and pharmaceutical companies also share health information to gain new insights. In fact, social media has been identified as a potential tool in collecting the public’s behavioral and lifestyle data that may help improve drug use prevention [7]. An informed and comprehensive database ensures the current healthcare system is better equipped to meet individual needs in the 21st century.

What Are Personalized Medicine Doctors?

Similar to traditional medicine doctors, personalized medicine doctors attend medical schools and become licensed in their areas of expertise. The main difference, though, is personalized medicine doctors have additional knowledge on individualized patient care for more effective treatments.

In recent years, medical and pharmacy schools have included courses on personalized medicine as part of their curricula. The additional certification gives healthcare professionals the necessary skills to better interpret diagnostic test results, form precise diagnoses, design prevention strategies, and customize treatment plans.

As a result, personalized medicine doctors can better communicate with their patients about how their lifestyles and environments affect their health. They can also tailor patient treatments specific to individual biochemical profiles.

What Ailments Do Personalized Medicine Treat?

personalized medicine: doctor handing a medicine bottle

An individualized healthcare approach, personalized medicine is typically used for chronic health ailments. Patients often turn to personalized medicine after failing to get adequate help for their condition with standard medical care.

Commonly treated health issues include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues, including leaky gut, SIBO, and IBS
  • Autoimmunities like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Mystery symptoms such as brain fog and chronic fatigue
  • Different types of cancer such as breast cancer and lung cancer
  • Metabolic diseases such as diabetes, fatty liver, and cardiovascular diseases

But how does personalized medicine treat your health issues?

Firstly, a personalized medicine doctor will do a comprehensive and detailed intake, reviewing your symptoms and asking personal questions related to your behavior, lifestyle, and environment. If needed, they may recommend specific diagnostic tests for a more precise diagnosis, keeping in mind your financial resources. 

Once the test results are back, your doctor will interpret the test results for new insights to tailor their treatment decisions. They will then create an effective treatment plan for you, taking into account your ability to implement it.

For instance, if a low FODMAPs diet is a recommended part of your treatment, your physician may discuss any trouble you could have following the diet’s strict food restrictions.

Being mindful of your personal, social, and economic factors is essential to an effective treatment protocol.

When it comes to disease prevention, your personalized medicine doctor may:

  • Recommend earlier health screenings for proactive disease prevention 
  • Suggest healthy lifestyle changes and tailored dietary strategies
  • Suggest targeted drugs and/or supplements for your unique medical situation

Personalized medicine uses a mix of therapeutic interventions to treat and prevent the onset of chronic diseases.

Traditional Medicine vs. Personalized Medicine

Even though personalized medicine is much newer than traditional medicine, the two healthcare models are significantly different.

One-Size-Fits-All vs. Targeted Therapies

Traditional medicine uses a one-size-fits-all healthcare approach, with standard protocols recommended for most conditions. Conversely, personalized medicine involves tailoring the treatment to each patient’s symptoms, genetic history, lifestyle, and preferences.

One case study shows how personalized medicine used targeted therapies to resolve health issues that have stumped traditional medicine. The patient experienced brain fog, joint pain, and inflammation for years. He consulted multiple traditional doctors for his symptoms but never saw any improvement.

Eventually, the patient learned about personalized medicine through Dr. Michael Ruscio and tried the Paleo diet for his health issues. While his symptoms subsided, inflammatory flare-ups still occurred from time to time.

The patient then personalized his diet by removing nightshade and high-histamine vegetables from the Paleo diet. He also went on the elemental diet, temporarily, to help reset his gut health. Finally, his symptoms improved significantly and he stopped having inflammatory flare-ups.

These results were achieved in a step-by-step process, tailoring each new therapy to the patient. In the end, he discovered the best autoimmune and low-histamine dietary frameworks to resolve his chronic health issues.

Piecemeal vs. Holistic Patient Care

health plan clipboard

The second key difference is that while both healthcare approaches may require some trial-and-error, personalized medicine starts with a more individualized approach from the outset.

Traditional medicine doctors usually prescribe drugs based on condition-specific protocols. When the drug is ineffective or leads to side effects, doctors may prescribe a different drug therapy or change the initial diagnosis. They may also treat each symptom on its own, for example, giving aspirin for headaches and antacids for indigestion. This process sometimes results in patients taking multiple medications for symptoms and no long-term resolution.

Conversely, personalized medicine treats health ailments in a more holistic manner. Instead of only looking at your symptoms individually, personalized medicine doctors recognize that headaches, indigestion, bloating, and depression may be interrelated. They also pay attention to your lifestyle habits and environmental factors to identify the root causes of your health problems.

The clinical practice guidelines for a treatment plan may consist of therapeutic diets, lifestyle changes, and prescription drugs to address your health issues. Throughout the process, your doctor might recommend adjusting your treatment plan based on your progress and individual response.

Not only does this boost the likelihood of improved symptoms — it also reduces healthcare costs, time, and side effects associated with incorrect diagnoses and unsuitable drug treatments. Through active participation and feedback, you’ll feel in control of your healing journey.

Reactive vs. Proactive Health Care

Lastly, traditional medicine tends to be reactive since it usually focuses on treating a disease after it has occurred. Meanwhile, personalized medicine can be much more proactive, emphasizing prevention strategies.

Let’s take Type 2 diabetes as an example. In traditional medicine, dietary and lifestyle changes are recommended only after the onset of this metabolic disease. Sometimes, these interventions only come after the patient has experienced other health complications and poor quality of life.

On the other hand, a personalized medicine doctor can recommend specific diagnostic tests for healthy individuals who aren’t diabetic but may be vulnerable to the disease. For example, a new microbiota test has been found to accurately predict changes in your blood sugar levels to different foods.

To illustrate, the test may show a quick rise in your blood sugar levels after eating ice cream but not with sweet potatoes. This gives you an idea of which foods increase your susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes.

As such, the test results help you personalize your daily diet to reduce the consumption of foods that cause blood sugar spikes. With better glucose control, you proactively reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Personalized Medicine Is the Future of Healthcare

doctor listening to the heartbeat of a young boy with his mom

Given what personalized medicine can do for the average individual, it’s a promising healthcare model for the future. Understanding patient needs and using the right tools to meet them means more precise disease management for everyone.

The best thing is, personalized medicine shows you can (and should) be proactive about your health. Dedicating time, effort, and resources to disease prevention is more than half the battle.If you’d like to learn more about how personalized medicine can help improve your health system, book an appointment with Austin Functional Medicine today.

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