What is Precision Health and How Can It Detect Your Health Risks?

As technologies advance, the experiences of our lives are becoming ever more personalized. Online stores now offer up must-have items tailored to your tastes upon login, and streaming services quickly filter through thousands of options to offer up the perfect suggestion for your next binge, based on your personal interests and habits. Universal solutions, in many ways, are a thing of the past. So why are they still the norm when it comes to the most important aspect of your life — your health?

One-size-fits-all solutions are on the decline in many ways, perhaps most importantly, on matters of personal health. Blissful ignorance, once an excuse for poor dietary habits or a sedentary lifestyle, is no longer possible as messages about the importance of a quality diet,  exercise, and stress relief infiltrate our daily lives. The very best recommendations are, of course, driven by data. And while our cultural norms have helped shift so many unhealthy behaviors we once considered perfectly acceptable (smoking, for instance), it hasn’t yet become mainstream to consider our individual risk factors and how our unique DNA, medical histories, vitals, and more play an incontestable role in health outcomes, disease risk, and reactions to various treatment modalities. That’s where precision health comes in. 

What is precision health?

The healthcare system as we know it is essentially stuck in the dark ages when compared to the abundance of customized and curated experiences we enjoy daily. . The reason? Medicine as we know it generally favors reactive solutions versus proactive prevention and risk management. Despite the fact that many doctors very much want to practice preventive medicine, the traditional system is designed to treat illness and doesn’t really equip practitioners with the proper tools to fully deploy it in practice settings. On the research side, scientists may study diseases and cures, and not all the clinical signs, symptoms, and preventive strategies associated with those ailments and treatments. This standard of reactive healthcare — treating an illness once it’s already wreaking havoc on your body — simply doesn’t make sense, given the wealth of data we now know how to leverage in order to make better informed health decisions. 

Precision health focuses on predicting, preventing, and precisely treating disease, and the ultimate goal is to create completely personalized health strategies that align with and support every individual’s genetic, biological, and chemical differences. Precision health utilizes data to deliver the right tools and interventions at the right time to the right person — a seemingly simple concept that’s historically been unattainable due to the blanket, reactive approach of traditional medicine. 

By compiling information on genetics, lifestyle, environment, and specific biomarkers from a large sample of volunteers, this approach has the capacity to redefine what “healthy” truly looks like and identify early warning signs of potential problems. While traditional research studies typically examine participants with a shared disease or biological abnormality, precision health looks to track specific data in a generally healthy population, which, over time, can reveal clues about certain deviations.A sustained change in heart rate or blood sugar, for instance, could indicate an impending disease. The earlier these issues are detected, the sooner treatments can be implemented, so why not find out what’s going on in your body before these risks turn into big problems?. What’s more,people who choose to monitor their biomarkers may be able to initiate prevention strategies that stave off diseases altogether. 

How tracking your own body over time can influence your health

Tracking large populations is one important piece of precision health and tracking your own body puts that into practice. Here’s where panomics comes into play. A systems biology approach integrating the study of genes, proteins, metabolites, and more, panomics involves the use of advanced, non-invasive imaging, chemistry, vitals, and other tools to build a comprehensive snapshot of your health. When these snapshots are tracked over time, the data paints a clear picture of changes that indicate the need for immediate or future action — whether that means modifying your diet, a course of medication, more sleep, or some other form of intervention. 

Q Bio co-founder, Michael Snyder, PhD has been tracking his personal health data for many years using readily available technologies, and tells the story of one clear example. While traveling, Snyder detected a curious change in his heart rate and blood oxygen level. He didn’t feel sick, but a fever followed, and the combination of changes happening in his body at the same time made it clear to him that he’d somehow contracted Lyme disease. Not being anywhere near where Lyme is commonly found, his own physician thought the concept was highly unlikely, but with the data as proof in hand, Snyder insisted, and started a round of antibiotics.

Because of his experience, interest in, and familiarity with panomics, Snyder was able to observe and analyze his own data to discern observe subtle clues about his health status — an intensely personalized point of view the average person wouldn’t have access to via traditional medicine. By the time the test came back and confirmed the diagnosis, he was already finished with a round of antibiotics and the disease was eradicated from his system. Seeing the warning signs in real time allowed him to take action long before the typical healthcare process would have even detected an issue, if ever.

Why precision health matters now

We’re living in an increasingly customizable world that’s advancing and growing more technologically sophisticated every single day (just ask any one of the artificially intelligent personal assistants that know your stereo volume and living room lighting preferences!). But until now, we haven’t fully applied the power of existing technologies to better our health and wellness. We’ve finally arrived at an exciting time in which we can use these timely, targeted, cost-effective prevention and treatment strategies and become empowered to make the best possible choices on a regular basis. Working with experts who can help us make sense of our body’s signs and signals is the future of healthcare, and it’s quickly becoming the modern reality as the most accurate, affordable, actionable way to optimize our well-being, reach our goals, and remain healthy for as long as possible.