Digital Wellness and the Transformation of Healthcare
Throughout most of Western medicine, visiting a doctor has often been a delayed process usually prompted by “something being wrong” – we’re sick or worried that we might be, we’ve broken a bone or experienced heart palpitations. But Larry Smarr, director of the Calit2 Lab – a UC San Diego / UC Irvine partnership (HQ Qualcomm Institute) – goes every few months. It’s not that he’s chronically ill; at least not anymore. It’s that he’s improving his wellness.
Smarr is one of the “Healthy 100 Pioneers” to participate in the first phase of a new 25-year, ultimately 100,000-person longitudinal genetic study focused on P4 Medicine – predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory – being conducted by the 501(c)3 research organization Institute for Systems Biology.
“If you look at healthcare today, it’s all about disease,” explained Hood, president of ISB, to the audience of primarily C-level execs, scientists, and other thought leaders. “It’s not about understanding wellness at all.”
With this study, Hood aims to change all that, starting with a group of basically healthy subjects, collecting information from genome sequencing and six other types of data at daily and three-month intervals, and then monitoring their wellness over the course of the next 25 years.
Hood hopes to create a fundamental shift in the focus of medicine, from treating illness to maintaining wellness. But he’s also planning to identify three things he says medicine has been missing for years: a set of metrics for quantifying wellness, knowledge about the beginnings of diseases and how they start, and data about the longitudinal course of disease.
Currently, Hood said, the cost per patient is about $15,000, but he believes advances in genetic sequencing could bring that cost down significantly in the next few years. Participants in the study will be matched with coaches who will analyze each patient’s data and work with them to identify actionable options for improving their health.
Eventually, he says, that group will split into two subgroups: those who remain healthy and those who develop illness. “Once we discover they have a disease, we can go back into the beginning of the disease, see why they have it, and get them back to wellness,” he told FiRe attendees.
Smarr, for his part, has already seen big results. “You can actually increase your wellness by getting these monthly checkups,” he said. He’s not exaggerating. When Smarr started the study, at age 64, doctors plotted his metabolic age, a measure of real health, at 62. “And now,” he said, “I’m 65 and my metabolic age is 60. My goal now is to get my metabolic age into the 50s before I reach my 70s.”
At this time, Phase 1 is full, but those who are interested in learning more about the 100K Wellness Project may visit https://research.systemsbiology.net/100k.