Oncologists Are Crucial to Advancing Precision Medicine
Aradhana Ghosh, MD
This article was authored by Aradhana Ghosh, MD, vice president of Oncology, Syapse.
Cancer care is in the midst of a dramatic shift toward precision medicine. Our country’s leading health systems are embracing this new form of care, and patients are seeing better outcomes.
Two forces are converging to enable this shift: we now have an unprecedented amount of data on individual patients, and we have an abundance of smarter, more effective cancer therapies that are tailored to patients’ unique genetic makeup. But realizing the full power of precision medicine, and bringing it to more patients, hinges on us—the entire healthcare ecosystem, from health system leadership to pharmaceutical and technology companies—making the oncologist a central part of our strategy.
Before precision medicine came along, oncologists were already overworked. The United States is facing a massive oncologist shortage, which leads to packed schedules. Those who work full time see many patients every day of their workweek, all while trying to keep up with the latest treatment information. I am aware of this because I was a practicing community medical oncologist.
Now, with the advent of next-generation sequencing, oncologists often have access to a treasure trove of extremely detailed genetic and molecular data for patients who have been tested. The challenge is making sense of this vast amount of information, and putting it to use, all while maintaining an extremely busy schedule. And it’s not just vast, but also new information: most oncologists today were not trained to interpret complex genetic and molecular data. Simply put, it’s overwhelming for oncologists.
Technology, and software in particular, can help bridge this gap, but it must be built with the oncologist in mind. One oft-cited criticism of the previous healthcare technological upheaval—electronic health records—is that they added more administrative work for physicians while offering little clinical benefit. In precision medicine, the role of technology should be to supply oncologists with the data they need, when they need it, and in a format they can understand, so they can make the most informed treatment decisions.
One area where oncologists frequently seek help is in cutting through the noise of all the new data and treatments at their fingertips. Technology should not show the oncologist every piece of data and every possible treatment, but only those data that really matter to help inform treatment decisions.
Another area where oncologists see untapped potential is real-world evidence. Most decisions made by oncologists today are the result of published literature, which is largely informed by clinical trials. However, only 3% of US patients diagnosed with cancer participate in clinical trials, which means that there are millions of patients whose data, including molecular profiling results and treatment outcomes, are not being considered when oncologists are making treatment decisions. Software can compile and bring these insights to the surface, arming physicians with the most relevant information possible.
Precision medicine is rapidly becoming the new standard of care in oncology. Soon, the vast majority of cancer patients will have their tumors genetically sequenced. We will have even more targeted therapies, and more detailed individual patient data than we do today. As the various parts of the healthcare ecosystem move precision medicine forward, it’s our responsibility to keep oncologists at the forefront.