Medicine is becoming more personal – and not a minute too soon. Clinicians have always cared about individual patients. But it's easy to lose sight of individuals when the number of patients passing through your healthcare service is huge and growing rapidly, and when the austere financial climate necessitates strict targets often applying to populations of patients rather than to the individuals within those populations.
Despite these pressures there is now a visible trend, highlighted by several recent events, to make medicine more personal, and to make individual patients the basis for judgements about whether healthcare services have been delivered appropriately and effectively. Over the last two to three decades, and championed by pioneers such as Archie Cochrane and the Cochrane Collaboration , medical information saw an important shift from anecdotal or tradition based practice toward an emphasis on evidence-based medicine. Evidence based medicine is often a prerequisite for rational, effective healthcare but as with any complex system has its own limitations and challenges. Key among these is the challenge of relating the results of randomized trials and systematic reviews, which often describe outcomes from hundreds or thousands of patients, to an individual patient in a specific healthcare setting. Led by organizations such as the Cochrane Collaboration, medical practice has become increasingly alert to this issue, and clinicians increasingly adept at “translating” systematic review data into answers that make sense for the patient in front of them.
In parallel with this transition in the type of information used to inform medical decision making, has been a shift in the way healthcare information is delivered. Historically books and journals have been used to convey research findings and practice guidance to clinicians, with book and journal content most usually relating to types or groups of patients. More recently the concepts of books and journals have been converted into digital format with e-books, online journals, and mobile apps allowing access to the same content via digital and sometimes mobile media. The next step in this information-delivery evolution is the growing use of clinical decision support information linked to individual patient data through electronic health records. Working alongside books and journals, and crucially deriving content from them, decision support tools linked to patient data have the power to deliver answers to clinical questions relating to specific patients bringing the focus back to individuals.
Considering some of the interventions books, journals, and decision support tools describe, February saw an important set of guidance released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , aimed at facilitating clinical pharmacogenomic drug development. Pharmacogenomics is the concept of rationalizing drug therapy based on an individual patient's genotype, making the chances of drug therapy success higher and the chance of adverse drug reactions lower in any particular patient. In this way, in addition to clinical information and its delivery becoming more personal, drugs themselves are evolving to become a solution for an individual rather than a group.
Shifting from the professional aspects of healthcare to the perspective of the individuals clinicians are regaining their focus on, the pace of change has been no less rapid or dramatic. Patients are taking a much more active role in every aspect of clinical practice, and clinical research. Also in February this year, the first major pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline , expressed its intention to make all of its clinical trials data publically available. This move came after years of pressure from opinion leaders such as Ben Goldacre, and crucially from members of the public themselves in well-orchestrated campaigns.
In line with this heightened public awareness of the importance of, and issues surrounding healthcare research, is the growing number of digital tools focusing on outcomes reported by individual patients. These patients are now often not those taking part in substantive research trials, but are simply interested and engaged in their own care and keen to discover information and to share their experiences. Services such as Health Unlocked (www.healthunlocked.com) and Ginger.IO (http://ginger.io/) are sophisticated examples of how innovative digital technology and a detailed understanding of the interface between patients and healthcare systems can channel the power of individual patients to drive tangible improvements in care. These companies are at the forefront of a growing revolution in the way care is assessed, outcomes recorded, and patients given a voice in their own health management. The challenge for clinicians will be to support that revolution and welcome the changes it will inevitably bring.
Tragically, we recently also saw the publication of a stark reminder of how terrible the consequences can be of ignoring individuals and focusing solely on targets and budgets . In the United Kingdom, Robert Francis QC published a report into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation National Health Service Trust between January 2005 and March 2009. Making over 290 specific recommendations for change, the key theme in the Francis report is that targets were prioritized above the care for individual patients, with catastrophic results for those patients and for their families.
The world is changing fast, and in healthcare the importance of remembering individual patients as distinct from groups, or group-related targets, is a crucial change for the better. The process of renewing our focus on individual patients is reflected not only in medical practice and research but also by global healthcare publishers like Wiley. The launch of Clinical Case Reports as an open access journal is an important step in this process. With a rigorous peer review system and prominent strategic advisory board, Clinical Case Reports will publish spontaneously submitted reports along with those referred from over 30 supporter journals. Unlike other case report journals, as well as publishing rare events Clinical Case Reports will direct its focus specifically on examples of best practice in important common clinical scenarios, especially those highlighting the use of key systematic reviews or guidelines. In doing so, and by delivering the content free for use and reuse, we will help facilitate the management of more cases encountered by many more physicians than would be possible with rare or esoteric reports alone. Taking this approach, our vision is to use individual patients' experiences to improve health outcomes and increase clinical understanding globally.