What Apple’s new iPad can teach us about personalized medicine…
Apple’s recent launch of the “new iPad” turned a lot of heads, not only because it’s an Apple product or because they opted not to name the new iPad, but the fact that this new iteration offers users a viewing experience unlike pretty much any other visual technology available to consumers. The new iPad boasts a “Retina Display” with a staggering 2048×1536 resolution.
While most of us don’t even know what to do with that kind of screen resolution, it serves as an appropriate metaphor for efforts in healthcare to deliver personalized medicine.
The key to understanding the depth of the iPad’s screen resolution, as well as the promise of personalized medicine, requires looking at what lies beneath. Each graphical item on the iPad’s screen is comprised of tiny pixels – in the new iPad’s case, thousands of pixels. Each pixel represents a piece of data, that by itself means very little, but when brought together with all the other pixels forms an image. That’s not too different from the promise of personalized medicine that really took center stage during the mapping of the human genome during the 1990s.
The promise of personalized medicine is to deliver medical care that is tailored to each individual patient. While many of us are similar in many ways, deep down, hidden in our genes lay distinct differences that make us unique. As medicine and science strive to understand these underlying building blocks and variables, and more importantly, strive to know what intricacies are present in each patient, the promise of personalized medicine begins to be realized.
In truth, much of the know-how – the tools, processes, and technologies – already exist, but are all too often stifled and locked in data silos within organizations. The biggest hurdle to aggregating data is technological, with each department or specialty using a specific software system or database to capture and store the data. Attempts to integrate data from these disparate clinical informatics systems require more and more custom-built solutions – an approach that is hardly efficient and terribly expensive.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently announced plans to build a “registry of patient registries.” This is a powerful research informatics proposal that brings healthcare closer to the reality of personalized medicine. In our experience a registry is quite simply a purpose-specific database, whether it’s a patient registry, clinical registry or disease registry, each is a robust tool for collecting various data points – mosaic tiles, if youwill, with a specific focus.
So in the end, while Apple’s new iPad may include a feature that doesn’t make a lot of practical sense, and to some may even seem excessive, the metaphor is apt for those in healthcare and life science research: the more pixels (aggregated clinical data points) in a picture (patient), the better the picture (quality of personalized healthcare).