White House announces ambitious plans to advance precision medicine efforts

President Barack Obama today touted the progress the government has made on precision medicine during a summit, where officials announced a new round of commitments from the private, public, academic and nonprofit sectors aimed to accelerate future efforts.

The initiative, which just celebrated its year anniversary, aims to advance a new era of medicine that focuses on delivering more personalized healthcare. The effort  recently picked up more than 40 new commitments, White House Science Advisor John Holdren said, which will "help guarantee that it remains an important initiative going forward even beyond the term of this administration." 

As part of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently preparing an unprecedented national research cohort of at least one million patients, said NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D. The massive project, which will take up to four years to develop, aims to tailor treatment and preventive care by studying people's genes, lifestyles and environment. In addition to direct volunteers and those who volunteer through participating healthcare organizations, the project will incorporate federally-qualified health centers to ensure representation from underserved patient populations.

Collins said the project is transformative because it:

  • Replicates the diversity of the national patient population
  • Emphasizes preventive care by involving many patients who aren't sick, and engages them in the development of the cohort
  • Gives patients and participants access to their own data in the interest of full transparency

In a panel discussion later in the summit, President Obama expressed hope that PMI would increase healthcare's focus on preventive care. "So often what we label a healthcare system is more of a disease care system" where "the patient is passive," he said. "One of the promises of precision medicine is… empowering individuals to monitor and take a more active role in their own health."

Despite these developments, the healthcare system at large does not consider precision medicine a major priority, FierceHealthIT previously reported, with about 59 percent of hospitals and health systems saying it was not a key organizational goal in the next five years. The payer sector has also proved resistant to the initiative, with both Medicare and private payers skeptical about reimbursement for genetic testing, according to FierceHealthPayer.

However, more organizations are expressing interest in personalized medicine. During the summit, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and OpenNotes announced a new partnership to improve patient engagement and patients' access to their health records a major part of the PMI initiative, and many health IT vendors also said they support the effort.

To learn more:
- stream the summit (video)