IPPH Unified Concept for Population and Precision Health

The concept of precision medicine was originally conceived by the notion that key molecular drivers of human diseases (especially cancer) can be targeted with specific therapy to improve outcomes. Over the past few years, the ‘precision’ concept has also been applied to biomedical disciplines beyond the therapeutic context, e.g., ‘precision diagnostics’, ‘precision prevention’, ‘precision public health’ and most recently ‘precision health’ to encompass the full continuum of health. While precision health is an emerging area that aims to address and promote health by measuring and targeting specific characteristics and/or biomarkers of specific individuals or population sub-group, population health research broadly aims to study determinants of health events/outcomes and promote health at a population level.

Since individuals of low socioeconomic status and minorities are historically underrepresented in biomedical research (especially genetic and clinical research) precision health research may primarily benefit those who are studied. In addition, new precision health discoveries will likely be high in cost (because of limited market for a given product) and inaccessible to many. There is subsequently concern that unless precision health research is conceived, designed, and implemented broadly, these exciting new discoveries may further widen existing health disparities in the U.S. and globally.

Because of the massive and often passive (i.e., collected without active control by researchers or participants) nature of data from diverse sources there are major scientific and statistical methodological issues that precision health research needs to overcome. Many of the required methods and tools are not well-developed. Methodologists from medicine, public health, molecular and social sciences need to collaborate to develop and apply appropriate methods for meaningful precision health discovery and impact.

Integrating population and precision health concepts can help facilitate collaborations among diverse clinician, molecular and public health scientists, and the broader community and policy makers. Although Population Health and Precision Health can be understood as a unified domain within biomedical research, the two have increasing convergence and complementary methods and goals. 

Our approach seeks to employ an inclusive and integrated scientific approach to ensure that the most robust discoveries are achieved and are applicable to all members of society.