A decade after the completion of the Human Genome Project, the widespread appeal of personalized genomic medicine's vision and potential virtues for health care remains compelling. Advocates argue that our current medical regime “is in crisis as it is expensive, reactive, inefficient, and focused largely on one size fits all treatments for events of late stage disease.” What is revolutionary about this kind of medicine, its advocates maintain, is that it promises to resolve that crisis by simultaneously increasing the ability to be “personalized,” “predictive,” “preventive,” and “participatory.” Some call personalized genomic medicine “P4 Medicine,” inscribing these cardinal virtues into the movement's name.
All of these putative virtues have interesting implications for the future of health care. In this essay, we are especially interested in the claims that personalized medicine will lead to a more “participatory” or “patient-centered” approach to health care, in which patients are “empowered” to take more personal control over their care. The rhetoric of patient empowerment is nothing new in health care, but personalized medicine is an interesting case study because it portrays empowerment as one of its key virtues and as a mechanism for fixing the health care “crisis.”