During the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we have seen jurisdictions across the globe adopt different approaches to identifying, treating and containing the outbreak. While the pandemic is clearly not yet over, we are at a point where we can critically evaluate our responses to this healthcare crisis and draw some important conclusions.
Without question, our collective response to the pandemic produced many examples of great courage and compassion. Yet it has also exposed weaknesses in our preparedness to meet the crisis and flaws in our healthcare systems. A careful analysis of areas in which we need to improve also serves to highlight the increasingly important role that precision medicine can, and should, play in situations like these.
The goal of precision medicine is to provide the right treatment at the right time for every patient – with improved diagnostic accuracy, more personalized treatments, the elimination of unwarranted variations, and advanced therapy outcomes. The Covid-19 crisis has illustrated with stark clarity the importance of each of these efforts.
In a recently published thought leadership paper, Siemens Healthineers has identified five areas in which precision medicine plays a particularly vital role: i) testing, ii) tracking and surveillance, iii) public health infrastructure, iv) global coordination, and v) our approach to identifying, protecting and treating vulnerable populations. Although much progress has already been made in tackling the current pandemic – e.g., the rapid efforts at vaccine development – it is essential that we develop and embrace precise, coordinated, data-driven responses to infectious disease outbreaks within these five areas in order to contain or prevent the next pandemic.
- Testing: Effective management of the pandemic, both on the individual case level and on the population level, starts with testing. Testing programs should be extensive and sufficiently widespread to quickly and accurately identify patients so that community transmission can be reduced through control measures and care management. Test quality is vital, and new tests require high accuracy of close to 100% sensitivity, specificity, and proper validation. Precision is an absolute requirement in both molecular and serologic testing.
- Tracing and surveillance: Contact tracing is a crucial tool to control outbreaks, and it is particularly valuable when the prevalence of infection is relatively low. Effective contact tracing requires a veritable army of tracing personnel and can be supported by digital technologies. Contact tracing doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, but it does need to be widespread and thorough in order to be effective.
- Public health infrastructure: Only by embracing a robust, data-driven public health strategy can we enable precise, timely responses designed to mitigate the clinical and economic consequences of infectious disease outbreaks. Better IT infrastructure, better use of data, and better use of technology for communication and patient education are key parts of this, and provide clear benefits. For example, more comprehensive data management can help mobilize resources where they are needed, and can track equipment and supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment.
- Global collaboration and coordination: Viruses and pathogens do not respect national borders. Accordingly, effective coordination at a global level is vital, on top of national and regional efforts. A precise global infectious disease surveillance system should be a central part of this effort – of course with strong technological and legal safeguards to protect patient privacy and prevent misuse of sensitive data.
- Addressing the most vulnerable patient populations and high-risk groups: During the course of the current pandemic, vulnerable populations have been particularly hard hit. A comprehensive response to infectious disease outbreaks requires prompt and accurate identification of subpopulations who are most at risk due to their health status or due to social determinants like income, education, access to care, and geography. This information enables development of tailored prevention and treatment strategies – in other words, precision medicine at scale.
For an in-depth analysis of the role precision medicine can – and should – play in these five areas, please have a look at the Siemens Healthineers Insights Series paper titled “Moving toward precision in managing pandemics: Five critical domains for success in public health.”
Click here to download the paper on the Siemens Healthineers website.