HK ready to tap trend of proactive medicine

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Medicine's biggest challenge today is to tackle the profound complexity of human biology while still taking care of the patient as an integrated, whole being through a holistic approach.

The health system today is largely reactive and based on treatment of disease.

But there is an alternative: proactive 'P4' medicine, which is centred on the health of the entire population.

P4 medicine is personalised because it is based on fundamental information, and predictive because it's possible to determine the risk of certain diseases in each unique individual.

It is preventive because, by being able to predict the risk, a course of action can be taken to prevent or alleviate the development of a debilitating disease. And it's participatory because all this requires a co-operative network of patients and health care providers.

Medical advances and changing public health demands will see trends change. This is not science fiction. The entire human genome was coded in 2003. And stem cell techniques are developing rapidly.

Improved data storage technology means medical records can now be digitised and accessed from secure databases.

New methods need to be developed to extract as much molecular and biochemical information as possible on individuals as well as from clinical and historical data.

Handling such an enormous amount of personal data requires proper policies, high security and stringent quality control. This is a big challenge but it is crucial if we are to make future medical leaps.

Demand for better quality health care will grow both in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

And it is important to plan for the changes and benefits that will result from technological and scientific advances.

In spite of the use of the internet and smartphones, all clinicians, regardless of their specialty, do not seem to be as accessible as they used to be.

With the emergence of telehealth, for example, the traditional doctor-patient relationship must be redefined.

Hong Kong has high-quality health care professionals and a highly dynamic economy, which presents an opportunity for unique partnerships between government, universities, the Hospital Authority and the private sector.

Other cities in Asia are vying to become hubs of medicine.

As the tide turns, this is a unique chance to enable and accelerate change by eliminating key social and mental obstacles that barricade the promising future of our health care system.

Dr Alex Ching Sik-chung is a radiologist who has spent two years studying molecular imaging in Europe