||Navigating Health Care: Personalized Medicine
Rand: You inherit many things from your parents and grandparents. They
pass along photos, stories and recipes that can help you understand family
culture and values. Their genes influence your appearance - your height, and the
color of your eyes. And when family members share certain medical conditions,
you may also be at risk of developing the same problems in the future. By
practicing personalized medicine, doctors can use this information to predict
your risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy. Here to talk with
us more about this is AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy. Welcome, Dr. Clancy.
Dr. Clancy: Thank you.
Rand: Dr. Clancy, what is personalized medicine?
Dr. Clancy: Generally, personalized medicine involves using your genetic
information and family health history to make more accurate predictions about
your risk of developing disease, and how you might respond to treatment. This
could be a more effective approach to care than the traditional one, which
essentially provides the same care to everyone who has a particular illness.
Instead, it focuses on your family health history and individual
characteristics, including age, gender, height and weight in empowering you and
your doctor to develop plans for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Rand: How important is family health history to the care you receive?
Dr. Clancy: Family health history has always been very important in
getting good health care, but it has been underused. And today, with our growing
knowledge of genetics, it’s becoming even more important. This collection of
information about diseases that run in your family, as well as the eating
habits, activities and environment that your family shares, can help you make
healthy choices and important decisions about your health care options. This is
especially true when it comes to activities such as cancer screening, prevention
and early detection.
Rand: Are there studies that support the link between disease prevention
Dr. Clancy: This link has been examined most often when someone belongs
to a family with unusual patterns of disease, such as a rare genetic disorder,
like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. A recent study funded by
AHRQ looks at illnesses that are more common within the population, such as
heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The goal of the study was to determine the
accuracy of tools now used by doctors to assess family history and predict the
risk of cancer. One of the findings of the study was that more research is
needed in order for us to realize all of the potential benefits of using family
history to predict risk.
Rand: Are there actions that individuals themselves can engage in to help
Dr. Clancy: I would say that one clear choice would be for all of us to
document our family health histories. A good product to use for doing this is
the Surgeon General’s Family Heath History Tool. This Internet-based tool was
updated recently to make it more user-friendly for building your family’s health
history. And ultimately, it could serve as the foundation for developing better
risk assessment systems.
Rand: How do personalized medicine and the increased use of a family
health history fit into the current debate about 21st century health care?
Dr. Clancy: Well, I think that gets to the heart of this discussion. The
fact is, we’re moving into a different world. We expect more from our doctors
and other health care professionals, and more and more, they are delivering
value and services in ways they have not paid much attention to before.
Personalized medicine, family health history, and tools like the Surgeon
General’s equip all of us - consumers and health care professionals alike - with
extremely valuable information that can lead to much better health care. They’re
all keys to building a robust, but flexible health care system that is more
widely available to everyone, and more attuned to the needs of the individual.
I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy and that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care
Rand: For more information about the study, "Clinical Utility of Cancer
Family History collection in Primary Care," visit
www.ahrq.gov. To access the
Surgeon General’s Family History Health Tool, visit