Shaky prognosis for precision medicine

By Ni Tao
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, April 18, 2016
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"The idea that machines can be trusted with all of a doctor's work is patently wrong," he asserted.

In his opinion, over-reliance on machines is both misguided and dangerous, since machines tend to overlook the diversity of human responses to illness.

In the case of flu, people with different immune systems are impacted to varying degrees, and this isn't always reflected in machine-aided readings.

Standardized processes

Moreover, Xiang's ideal includes consistent standards for testing and treatment. This can sometimes be a problem even now at established outfits like the one he heads. Xiang mentioned one patient at his hospital who suffered complications after receiving a liver transplant. Complicating doctors' first-aid efforts were the conflicting results of two lab test reports, one issued by the emergency department, the other by the in-patient department.

Although these inconsistencies are rare at top hospitals, this story highlights the significance of standardized medical processes. And standardization, in theory, is the lifeblood of both precision and conventional medicine, Xiang noted. He also argued for the sharing of information among hospitals, as this would provide an important step toward laying the groundwork for precision medicine. If multiple doctors are to treat the same individual, it is vital for doctors to share a patient's medial records, CT scans and nuclear magnetic resonance reports.

As a crucial component of precision medicine, telemedicine, which refers to the provision of healthcare via telecommunications equipment, could theoretically be a boon to people without access to quality medical resources. Yet rarely has this boon materialized. Many like to think that the Internet has empowered patients by linking up the farthest corners of the country and putting quality medical services just a click away. But in fact, the Internet is a mere novelty in far-flung areas, which is another reason why Xiang dismissed the frenzy over precision medicine as "premature." Telemedicine remains out of reach for the have-nots. Xiang explained that local doctors he knows lack interest in attending televised consultations for a fee of up to 1,000 yuan (US$155). On the one hand, this amount simply isn't enticing for many already overworked doctors; while on the other, it is far too much for the most needy.

"Precision medicine must reach a broad base of patients if it is to be taken seriously," he added.

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