Pick Your Medicine: Personalized or Precision?

DURING THE PERSONALIZED MEDICINE WORLD CONFERENCE (PMWC) that took place in Silicon Valley last week, there was much excitement about the earliest clinical services that meet the definition of personalized medicine.

It won’t surprise pathologists and lab administrators to learn that companion diagnostics is considered a frontline example of personalized medicine. Our Editor-In-Chief, Robert L. Michel, was at the PMWC. Upon his return to the office, he shared with me some fascinating insights about the presentations that took place at this annual conference, which attracted more than 900 participants. (See this article.)

Of all the interesting points, the one that jumped out at me was Michel’s report of one speaker’s presentation, where he said that “personalized medicine” is a term that is becoming passé. It was this speaker’s assertion that the term “precision medicine” is gaining favor because it is more descriptive of a clinical procedure that, by definition, is totally unique to the individual patient.

Curious about this, I decided to do what most of us now do when we want to learn more about a subject. I Googled it. (Yes! “To Google” is a verb and I am confident that you understood my reference.) After entering “precision medicine,” Google returned 54.8 million results.

That caught me by surprise. These search results demonstrate the widening circle of health policy experts, physicians, and clinical leaders who use this term—precision medicine—along with personalized medicine. Upon reflection, this makes sense to me. Precision medicine connotes a sense of both increased accuracy and increased customization that directly benefits the individual patient.

Moreover, precision medicine is a descriptor that plays to the strengths of clinical laboratory testing and anatomic pathology. After all, one cornerstone of laboratory medicine is that every patient is unique and it is the pathologist, the Ph.D., and the laboratory scientist who interpret a patient’s lab test results with the goal of guiding the referring physician to an accurate diagnosis.

The more I think about it, the more I prefer “precision medicine” over “personalized medicine.” However, I will leave it to you to pick your medicine: personalized or precision. Regardless of your preference, the important point is that these terms describe a healthcare-wide transformation that will elevate the value that clinical laboratory testing provides to physicians and patients.


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