Investments in personalised medicine reduce healthcare costs dramatically

Or How Innovation and Healthcare Go Hand in Hand

Investments in better ICT and diagnostic technologies that make highly personalised healthcare possible really do pay off. Not only do patients benefit, but there are economic gains too. Particularly for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease – two of the most common health conditions today – the long-term costs can be dramatically reduced by better screening of patients and easier access to treatment and medication. This opens the door for new and innovative initiatives from the business world.

These are the findings of recent research by Professor Walter Van Dyck at Vlerick Business School in conjunction with Science|Business, a European think-tank that creates links between industry, policy-making and research. The conclusions are mainly based on data from the United Kingdom, but they apply equally to Belgium and other European countries. According to the researchers, investments in personalised medicine in the UK could deliver a potential saving of more than 35%. As a result, discussions are now in progress among policymakers in the UK.

This is the first time that an analysis has been conducted for the entire value chain of technology investments in healthcare: from healthy individual to initial diagnosis, treatment of the disease and eventual recovery or death. These new technologies require substantial investment from the start. But the research has also shown that in the long term, society can also expect a net saving by keeping more people healthy for longer periods of their lives. This is a very important lesson regarding the cost-effectiveness of our healthcare.

Walter Van Dyck, Professor of Innovation at Vlerick Business School.

Earlier research has already shown that personalised medicine generally offers possibilities in terms of cost-effectiveness. What is new is that for the first time, researchers have looked at exactly how much you can save and exactly what you have to do to make these savings. The research is based on concrete data about small-scale trials involving new technologies in the UK, Belgium and Germany. Via a computer-controlled simulation model, these data have been extrapolated to the costs and benefits for the population as a whole. The research mainly focuses on two specific health conditions, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, which – as it turns out – require a totally different approach.

Breast Cancer: a Question of Smarter Detection and Swifter Action

At present, age is the decisive factor in inviting women for an annual mammogram, given the fact that all women over the age of 50 are invited. However, the study shows that an alternative approach on the basis of high vs. low risk can reduce the average cost per patient by 37% over a 25-year period. After all, many women over 50 who are low-risk currently undergo unnecessary screening.

Investments in central, electronic patient reports in combination with genetic testing enable women at high risk to be identified and monitored more closely, and cancer to be detected in an earlier stage. This has not just financial but also health benefits. The use of expensive medicines (such as Herceptin) and treatments (operations and chemotherapy) falls, and the number of women who are diagnosed before the cancer spreads increases.

Cardiovascular Disease: a Question of Prevention and Lifestyle

Prevention is better than cure. Too many people still end up in the emergency ward of a hospital with a heart attack when things need not have gone so far. According to the researchers, the health costs for heart failure can be decreased by as much as 46% by giving high-risk patients better preventive screening in combination with the existing tried and tested method of more exercise.

The researchers see two possible approaches for better screening prior to heart failure. Firstly, you can equip general practitioners with point-of-care technologies that enable them to perform more tests themselves, quickly and cheaply. One good example of this is blood testing, in which blood samples no longer need to be sent to a lab or hospital.

A second approach is to invest in tele-monitoring for anyone requiring treatment (e.g. involving medication). Patients are equipped at home with a special device into which they are required to enter certain values every day (e.g. temperature, blood pressure, etc.). These data are sent to a central nursing unit who can monitor them and intervene if a patient is in danger of dropping out or suffering a relapse. Research has shown that usually only 30% of patients adhere strictly to the prescribed treatment, whereas with supervision via tele-monitoring, this increases to an impressive 92%.

Both technologies – that for general practitioners and that for patients – are already on the market, but are not currently used on a large scale.

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