At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there is nothing more important than the trust of our veterans. Ensuring they are confident in the care they are receiving is one of our top priorities, and one of the most critical components of their healing, health and wellbeing.
But each person’s healthcare journey is different – as unique as the individuals themselves – and the care they receive must be customized as such. For VA doctors, this means it’s time to embrace the power of precision medicine to help veterans with cancer.
In the past 15 years, precision medicine has gone from being a lofty goal to healthcare’s new reality. Treatments are increasingly being tailored to each individual’s genetic make-up, lifestyle, and other valuable patient-specific information. This data-driven approach ensures that treatment and care plans are targeted and personalized.
When it comes to cancer treatment, for example, scientists can analyze the DNA of patients’ tumor tissues to determine the best course of action. And as is the case with VA’s Million Veteran Program, caregivers and researchers are already applying big data and genomics to improve care for vets — tapping into an electronic database that links genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military-exposure data to better understand how genes impact health and disease susceptibility. Data at the cellular level can be the most potent antidote to fighting a disease such as cancer.
As a practicing physician, I see the value of precision medicine for clinical care, research and education. A targeted treatment approach can improve both the patient experience and overall health outcomes. The potential for personalized medicine to fundamentally change how cancer is treated in both scale and scope is incredible. What, then, has been limiting its wider-spread adoption and use?
Being the largest integrated delivery system in the country, VA is sitting on a wealth of information about some of the most daunting diseases plaguing the country, cancer being one of them. But our size also means having visibility into what drives or blocks innovation, and one of the biggest barriers to wider precision medicine use is the sheer volume of information that exists. Without the right technology in place, the data-deluge can simply be too overwhelming for caregivers to make sense of or take action on.
But it is our responsibility to seek new ways to unlock that data to improve care for our veterans of war, which is why we enlisted IBM’s Watson technology to help in the war on cancer for our vets.
As part of Vice President Joe Biden’s national initiative to accelerate cancer progress, VA and IBM Watson Health are launching a public-private partnership. The partnership aims to provide information to doctors to help expand and scale access to precision medicine over the next two years for 10,000 American veterans with cancer.
This type of collaboration holds great promise to leverage innovation and bring new technologies to patients, because no one organization, public or private, can advance cancer care in a vacuum. For genomics, it will take many groups, committed together to explore shared competencies and push the boundaries to take a data-driven, precision approach to cancer treatment.
As we scale our precision oncology program at VA, Watson for Genomics will provide critical information to healthcare providers that could help them target each individual veteran’s specific cancer-causing genetic mutations. With the help of Watson’s cognitive computing power, VA plans to bring precision treatment options to almost 30 times more patients than could be previously served.
Our partnership with IBM has the potential to help democratize the value of precision medicine for veterans and change the cancer care landscape, so no matter where you live and where you are treated, your oncologist can have access to the same expertise and the same insights. We believe data is one of our most powerful weapons in the war on cancer – and data will empower clinicians, researchers, scientists and more to bring the highest quality of care to our veterans – a group most deserving of the best care in the world.
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