Health News Digest


September 5, 2016

Personalized Healthcare, Personalized Education

By Michael D. Shaw

Here’s one thing I’ve observed as the husband of a teacher and father of a physician: Far too many problems that society is unwilling to deal with end up within the institutions of education or healthcare. It wasn’t that long ago when schools could spend virtually all of their time on conventional academics. For them to seriously address contemporary social issues, let alone provide instruction that was once left to the family, would have been unthinkable.

Likewise, even if hospitals always had to assume the burden of sensitive end-of-life issues, healthcare providers are now being pressed into all sorts of new roles. These can include vigilance for battered spouses and children; substance abuse treatment; and being caught in the middle of disputes involving supposedly “crazy” family members. For what it’s worth, total annual government spending (federal, state, local) on healthcare and education is comparable—$1.4 trillion and $1.0 trillion, respectively.

Ayn Rand and others argue that “society” doesn’t really exist. Rather, society is only a collection of people, the rulers of whom were—at least in the past—somehow exempt from moral law (e.g. Divine right of kings). There was always a “greater good,” and this was superior to the needs of any particular person. Indeed, the notion of “individual rights” is relatively new. Some suggest that it started out with our very own Constitution, even if slavery was specifically provided for (Article I, Section 2; Article I, Section 9: Article IV, Section 2).

The nature of individual rights inevitably leads to demands for individualized treatment—or customization, if you will. In an article entitled “Customization: Why Healthcare Needs to Get Personal,” author Josh Epperson notes that…

“Health is personal. Whether it’s your genetics, eating habits, or response to medication, your health is a collection of activities and behaviors that are anything but cookie-cutter. So why is it that so many healthcare solutions are one-size-fits-all? Patients clearly desire personalized care, but struggle to find it.”

Epperson continues: “When patients are a part of customizing their healthcare, whether it’s in sharing something personal to inform a procedure or being given options for medical intervention, patients feel their unique perspective is being taken into consideration. This makes people feel more comfortable and open to taking the necessary steps to improve their health.”

And the healthcare industry has responded. The Personalized Medicine Coalition (founded in 2004) describes “personalized medicine” as follows…

“Personalized medicine, which is also called precision or individualized medicine, is an evolving field in which physicians use diagnostic tests to determine which medical treatments will work best for each patient. This information is important because many drugs are ineffective on some patients. By combining the data from diagnostic tests with an individual’s medical history, circumstances and values, health care providers can develop targeted treatment and prevention plans. This has benefits for both patients and the health system.”

An Internet search will reveal dozens of well-known medical centers (including Mayo, Duke, Vanderbilt, Cleveland Clinic, and Brigham and Women’s) that offer personalized medicine services.

As to education, many parents are familiar with the IEP (Individualized Education Program), developed for every student eligible for special education in the US—as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1990).

Although industry studies tend to show that parents are satisfied with their child’s IEP, it is also true that most public and private schools do not have the resources to provide genuinely customized instruction to students with learning challenges.

That’s why we need schools like Pacific Point Academy & Learning Center, based in Santa Monica, CA. Founder Debbie Shaler Williams is the mother of a son with learning challenges. After much frustration, and countless hours spent driving to sundry facilities to obtain tutoring, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy, she founded her own shop.

As she told me…

“Students who struggle with basic foundational skills in reading, written language, mathematics, processing, attention, executive functioning, social skills, and working memory benefit from our specialized program that addresses areas of strengths and weaknesses. Our unique one-on-one learning model, combined with a strong comprehensive curriculum, small class sizes, personalized instruction, a collaborative team of experts, and trained staff delivers an all-inclusive educational program.”

Some heartening news! In an era of big everything, there’s still a place for personalized attention in healthcare and education.