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Personalized Medicine or Patient-centered Care?

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Personalized medicine is a term used in science and medicine that holds significant promise of administering medicines specifically tailored to an individual’s genome or metabolism. However, an editorial published yesterday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) suggests that the term creates an image for the public that is completely opposite of science and technology and sets up unrealistic expectations.

From a patient’s perspective, dubbing this work “personalized medicine” is not only unrealistic, but also has the potential to do more than just raise false hope and expectations. For the public at large, the term “personalized medicine” does not spark images of abstract science and technology. The image it creates is just the opposite: most people would conceive personalized medicine to be what’s commonly called patient-centred or person-centred care — a more humane, empathetic approach to care focused on individuals and shaped by their needs and circumstances, rather than cell-level scientific manipulations.

The authors — Dr. George Browman, University of British Columbia and member of CMAJ’s editorial board, and Dr. Paul Hébert, Editor-in-Chief, CMAJ, and editorial advisory team — write that patients should expect only a small number of tailored interventions because the interplay between biology and the environment is too complex and there is a significant time lag in getting new therapies into practice.

The editorial advocates increased funding for pioneering biological, behavioral, social and organizational inquiry to understand the person as a whole and how biology, circumstances and needs interact.

CMAJ Editorial: Personalized medicine: a windfall for science, but what about patients?