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In Praise of ‘Precision Health,’ Not Just Precision Medicine

Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, wants to hear a little less chatter about precision medicine and a little more about “precision health.”

Precision medicine, of course, is the solution for when you’re really sick. Diagnosed with cancer? Precision medicine suggests a treatment that caters to your specific disease and your genetic makeup.

Precision health, meanwhile, is the flip side of that coin. “To predict, prevent, and cure precisely,” Minor said Wednesday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego.

The need for ultra-specific precision medicine treatments is reduced with growth of precision health, argued the academic-physician. Consider mental illness—precision health could make a difference, he said.

“Our knowledge of the science behind mental illness is still in its infancy,” Minor said. “But the pace of scientific advances is encouraging. We’re moving beyond thinking of depression as one illness.”

Depression may require subtypes, not unlike cancer. And it’s clear that mental illnesses vary considerably. Thus a more holistic approach would allow medical professionals to “look beyond, or in addition to, the symptoms at what the most effective treatment may be,” Minor said.

Predicting and preventing mental illness “is an area where I believe we’re making some progress,” he added. Thankfully, employers are already beginning to focus more on mental health and wellbeing of employees to “make mental health and wellbeing a feature of the workplace.”

But there’s more work to be done—especially at your local hospital. “Over half the physicians practicing medicine in the United States are burned out,” Minor said. “That’s just unacceptable.”

Electronic health records are partly to blame, he said. Physicians are spending as much, if not more, time in front of EHRs as patients. “I don’t think any of us went into medicine because we wanted to be an expert in making an EHR work,” he said.

Medical care and genetics make up about one quarter of the total inputs for a person’s health, Minor said. Social, behavioral, and environmental determinants dictate the rest. Which is why the world needs more precision health—and perhaps a little more rest.

Said Minor: “The culture of wellness within our organizations is so critically important.”

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