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October 23, 2018
Why Australians prefer to personalise their lipstick rather than their medicine
By: Christian Nejm

Forget personalised movie recommendations or lipstick colours, personalised medicine has come to Australia, with the potential to shakeup the local healthcare industry. It’s a trend that’s been building ever since 2003, when the Human Genome Project gave us unprecedented insight into our genetic makeup, creating the potential for precision medicine: tailoring treatment to a patient’s genes.

But despite the enormous benefits, personalised medicine won’t become mainstream any time soon, unless healthcare providers do one thing a whole lot better: improve the experience.

How does it work?

By analysing a person’s DNA, doctors can identify hereditary conditions, diagnose cancers early and find ideal medication doses. They can use pharmacogenomic testing to understand which therapies won’t work on particular patients, without having to put people through a course of unnecessary and ineffective treatment.

DNA sequencing technologies can also unlock the secrets of the millions of microbes that live inside our gut and everywhere else in the body. Microbiome firms are now testing whether these tiny creatures can help us treat human diseases. From 2011 to 2015, venture funding in microbiome firms grew 458.5 percent.1

Technology is proven and affordable

Personalised (or Precision) medicine has arrived. The cost of creating a complete human genome sequence has gone from costing $20 million in 2006 to less than $1,000 in 2016, and it keeps on dropping. At the same time tech developments in AI and advanced analytics allow us to mine a person’s DNA for insights. By integrating AI and machine learning into the diagnostic process, doctors are able to rapidly diagnose diseases and personalise cures—making personalised medicine a mainstream possibility right now.

Australians are in (kind of)

After loving the benefits of a personalised experience from Netflix and Amazon, consumer sentiment has swung strongly in favour of healthcare personalisation. Recent research suggests 65 percent of Australians are willing to allow doctors to use a tool that can analyse their genetic information for health risks; 59 percent are even willing to add their genetic profile to an electronic health record.2

The nutrition and fitness industries are all over this like a rash, with a swag of personalised nutrition testing services hitting the market and genetically personalised supplements. Already, in Australia, DNAfit is offering genome-personalised workout and nutrition advice including diet plans, grocery lists, and a workout app that creates routines based on your genetic muscle type, endurance level and risk of injury.

But we’re far off precision medicine being mainstream. Local health providers are dragging their feet.

When it comes to adopting genetic medicine techniques, many healthcare organisations are slow off the mark. It should become standard practice to combine genetic information with medical records and personal preferences to create hyper-personalised treatments and experiences for healthcare customers—while remaining mindful of privacy and policy concerns.

Why are health care companies hesitating?

Whether you are a leader, follower or laggard comes down to your risk appetite, priorities and—often—your regulatory environment. Embracing hyper-personalisation is a strategic choice, requiring the support of: policy makers, funders, shareholders and service providers. Do all these stakeholders understand what’s possible—and what’s at stake?

Experience vs. science

Many healthcare providers are failing to make headway because they have yet to grasp that customer experience is just as important as the science. Yes, precision medicine works. But it will only become mainstream if the consumers experience of it is engaging, convenient and even fun. This is not just about investing in analytics, infrastructure and AI. Experience platforms, apps and wearables are the other half of the equation that will make genetic medicine take off.

As health care companies start walking down this path, they need to ask themselves: Are we enhancing or re-imaging the experience?

Technology capability is key

Hyper-personalisation relies on data. The strength of data analysis for consumer personalisation is directly proportionate to the depth and breadth of data available. But the science of personalisation has advanced faster than the supporting infrastructure, with the:

  • Capacity to generate data (particularly genome data) outstripping our ability to analyse it.
  • Cost of sharing, storing and maintaining data increasing rapidly
  • Competition in the health system, privacy and security issues all create disincentives to sharing

This is why many traditional health players are partnering with consumer product leaders who already have strong capabilities in the use of data, analytics and AI and the architectures, solutions and business models required to address these issues.

Where do we start?

To get up to speed with hyper-personalisation, health care organisations must:

  • Begin the journey: Define the vision - Define the end state and develop the future service(s) your organisation intends to deliver.
  • Address challenges and define position - Pinpoint the challenges to take on and make strategic choices that aligns with your enterprise vision.
  • Develop “no-regret” capabilities - Prioritise and develop capabilities, such as data maturity and partnering in the ecosystem to build a foundation and for future growth.

It won’t be long before consumers expect health care providers to offer personalised, precision medicine as standard, in the same way they expect Netflix to know their movie preferences. Australian organisations need to decide where they will fit into this brave new future—and how to get there.

1 https://www.wsj.com/articles/microbiome-companies-attract-big-investments-1474250460

2 https://www.accenture.com/au-en/insights/health/health-au-consumer-survey

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