January 11, 2010


Predictive health 'promising'

Last month, Emory kicked off its fifth annual predictive health symposium “Human Health: Molecules to Mankind.” Researchers, physicians, health care workers, and members of the community from throughout the country were treated to intriguing and provocative findings and commentary by health care experts. Here are just a few excerpts from the two-day meeting.

President Jim Wagner and Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson introduced the symposium, along with Fred Sanfilippo, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Predictive-personalized health is one of the most innovative and promising solutions to our current health care crisis, Sanfilippo said. Medicine today stands at the brink of an achievable goal to tackle the most serious issues facing the health of humans – the ability to predict, reduce, and in many cases eliminate, the specific illnesses we each face.

In light of recent events at the nation’s capital, health reform could not be ignored at this year’s symposium. Kenneth Thorpe, chair of health policy and management at Rollins School of Public Health, discussed the elements of change that may be getting lost in the reform process—redesigning the delivery system to prevent and avert the development of disease.

Thorpe focused on Medicare because he says, it’s “the most acute offender of the system.” That is, it encompasses some of the most difficult problems that health care reform faces. One of those problems, Thorpe explained, involves the typical Medicare patient—an overweight hypertensive diabetic with back problems, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis and pulmonary disease. And that typical patient sees two different primary physicians, a multitude of specialists, and fills 30 different medications. That may sound like a clinically complicated case, but it’s typical one, says Thorpe. Yet, Medicare does nothing to coordinate the patient’s care. As a result, preventable admissions and readmissions rates are “off the charts,” he said.

“We currently have a disease management system based on episodic care, which means we treat symptoms instead of problems,” said Penny Pilgram George, president of The George Family Foundation and co-founder of the Bravewell Collaborative. “True healing can only begin when we correctly diagnose the problem and treat the root cause,” she said. “We know we could prevent half of chronic illness by simply teaching people to eat nutritionally, adopt health habits such as nonsmoking, build positive relationships, live and work in nontoxic environments, practice stress reduction, stay fit through some form of exercise, and be purposely engaged in life.”

And Paul Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics, said health care has changed as more and more aspects of ordinary life or behaviors are being redefined as medical. For example, being drunk and disorderly has become alcoholism. Now, virtually all of life is being redefined in biological terms, he said. And that has led to an increase in health care costs. We have an enormous amount of new things that we are calling illness, and we expect this health care system to treat that, he says. And these categories of illness are expanding. “We are generating categories of sickness that have no meaning,” said Wolpe.

SYMPOSIUM VIDEO: Carlos Del Rio describes five important lessons learned out of the 2009 novel H1N1 influenza pandemic.

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