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Can Have Them Both

Pitting precision medicine against public health practice may be a "false dichotomy," writes Ron Zimmern from the PHG Foundation and Muin Khoury at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the agency's Genomics and Health Impact Blog.

With the announcement of President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative there's been a great deal of  focus on how precision medicine could improve health and health outcomes. This led Columbia University's Ronald Bayer and Sandro Galea from Boston University to write recently in the New England Journal of Medicine that such an emphasis may be misguided. Instead, they argued a better approach would be to address social issues like poverty and racial residential segregation that lead to disparities in population health.

However, Zimmern and Khoury say that a "multifaceted approach" is needed to improve population health. They note that genomics is already being put to use to investigate and control outbreaks of infectious diseases and that it may help public health officials allocate resources, as genetic factors, in addition to age, gender, and geographic location, also increase people's risk for certain diseases.

"In the era of technology and big data, social, environmental, and biological factors are all important in improving health care and preventing disease," Zimmern and Khoury say. "Medical and public health practitioners need to work collaboratively to evaluate and use emerging new sciences for the benefit of population health."