PROPHET background

Personalized Prevention: what is needed ?

According to the latest report on the Health Status of Europe, the main causes of death in European Union countries are represented by chronic diseases, including circulatory diseases and various types of cancer, followed by respiratory disease (1). These are also the most prevalent diseases, reducing quality of life. Moreover, every year, 900,000 people in the EU die prematurely due to risk factors that can largely be prevented. As highlighted by the European Steering Group on Sustainable Healthcare, the implementation of sustainable and high value healthcare requires a shift from treatment of established diseases, to “person-centered” disease prevention and early diagnosis, where citizens and patients are equal and active partners in their care.

As such, the broader health system, beyond health care, needs to be engaged, and individual risk should be addressed in a community context, especially for primary prevention in healthy individuals. There is thus a need to integrate traditional public health approaches in disease prevention with personalised approaches that include -omics profiling and digital technologies.

Although conceptually, Personalised Prevention may be seen as a natural evolution of personalised medicines, in practical terms it may well represent a major disruption for healthcare systems, implying an integration of the traditional public health approaches in prevention that have a population perspective with a new one that is based on the individuals’ characteristics. This emerging field combines data at the individual level on biomarkers and behaviour, with societal/environmental data to increase precision and effectiveness of health promotion, preventive, diagnostic and curative actions. Major reforms in healthcare systems are therefore necessary, that include, not only solid biomedical knowledge, but also evidence for economic sustainability for policy makers and healthcare administrators and investment in novel technologies.

In our view, in order to fulfill the potential of prevention, we need:

  • To summarize, integrate different types of information, evaluate and discuss with all the relevant stakeholders the extent to which new technologies can synergize across biomarkers, behaviour and environmental level and give added value in terms of improved outcomes and quality of life before a proper implementation into healthcare and health systems.
  • To engage healthcare professionals on the potential and challenges of the use of current technologies in Personalized Prevention, especially public health professionals that work at the interface with policy makers.
  • To increase health literacy at the population level on the potential for Personalized Prevention to save lives or to improve quality of life. In a context of limited resources, citizens must be empowered to adopt healthy lifestyles, also through the use of new digital technologies, in order to ensure the sustainability of health systems

(1) Health at a Glance 2020.

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