The Role of Medical Librarians in the Age of Precision Medicine

Precision medicine is the customization of medical care for each patient taking into account the individual biological, environmental, and behavioral influences that will affect their health. This type of approach allows practitioners to predict more accurately which treatment options will work with a particular patient. The term “precision medicine” was first introduced in a report from the National Research Council in 2011, and is sometimes used interchangeably with “personalized” medicine.

While not a new concept, until recently most medical research has been focused on creating recommendations for the “average” patient without regard to factors that may affect an individual’s personal outcome.

Key to precision medicine is matching results of clinical trials to details of an individual patient’s data. Clinical trials are expensive and can be both time-consuming and complicated to set up. Finding sufficient clinical trials to determine what drug or intervention will yield the best results can be difficult, and initiating a new clinical trial for immediate answers is impractical. In order to help clinicians figure out what intervention has the highest likelihood of succeeding for a particular patient, medical librarians can help clinicians by doing comparative effectiveness research.

Here are a few tips:

  • Start with a search of clinical trials using point of care data from the physician. Using these details, you can either create a list of relevant research or suggest a search strategy to help them find information faster.
  • If two clinical trials are similar enough, you can also help generate a meta-analysis by running the data of both into a statistical program to determine which drug or intervention generated better results.
  • Alternately, you can cumulatively synthesize the data and clinical trials into a systematic review of interventions.

Over time, comparative effectiveness research should become easier with the PMI national cohort.

In January 2015, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative ® (PMI) in his State of the Union address calling for $215 million in Federal Aid. The National Institute of Health will receive $130 million to create a national, large-scale research participant group (called a cohort), and $70 million will be allocated to the National Cancer Institute for the PMI for Oncology program.

The PMI Cohort Program will be a participant-centered, data-driven project supporting research of human biology, behavior, genetics, environment, data science, and computation. Equally important, it will reflect the U.S. population by including participants of all racial, ethnic, and ancestral populations across geographies and socio-economic boundaries. Research will focus on common diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, and heart disease, but will also develop information on ways to increase an individual’s overall heath as well. As the cohort evolves, helping clinicians find relevant clinical studies based on demographics, or other patient data, will become easier.

What are other librarians saying about helping professionals and students find the information they need to bring about better patient outcomes? How do their views match up with faculty members? We surveyed 1,000 librarians and faculty members to find out. Download this white paper, The Changing Role of Libraries, to discover the answers to these questions.

More precision medicine resources:

The National Institutes of Health Page on Precision Medicine

The Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program Report

Precision Medicine: A Guide To Genomics In Clinical Practice

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