Keep eyes firmly shut. Write prescription.

  • by: |
  • 07/05/2006

You know how we feel about “evidence-based medicine” — that quotation marks are required since what it really means is “cost-based medicine.” Here at we are firm believers in patient-centric medicine with no quotes required because that’s what it means — putting the patient at the center of the health care equation.

We are also apostles of the Critical Path, of personalized medicine, of the Biomedical Century. And so it is with great interest that we recommend an article from The New York Times, “Imperfect, Imprecise But Useful: Your Race,” by Denise Grady. Here’s the link:

The article addresses the question, “Is race medically relevant?” According to Dr. James P. Evans, director of adult genetics at the University of North Carolina, “The question remains, does any of the differential distribution of gene forms have potential medical significance. I think the answer is sure. There may be differentially distributed genotypes that put a group, in aggregate, at increased or decreased risk for certain diseases or affect their responses to certain medications.”

Yes indeed. More information is better.

Are we there yet?

Ms. Grady writes, “Ideally, he said, doctors would like to know precisely which genes in each individual explain susceptibility to disease. But for most diseases the science is not there yet.”

No better argument exists for the need to accelerate down the Critical Path.

“In the meantime,” says Dr. Evans, “If we can glean some hint from someone’s ancestry, we should use it if it can help us treat them better.”

Drugwonks Exhibit A: The urgent need to aggressively identify and exploit biomarkers.

Yes — there are Luddites. Consider the statement of one editorialist, “In medicine there is only one race — the human race.” Nice sound-bite but, as the NEJM reports, important racial differences exist in the way people react to various medicines, including drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, depression, and pain.

How does this relate to patient-centric medicine? Ms. Grady writes, “The differences could affect the dose a person needed, or whether a particular drug should be used at all.”

The battle for using “continent of ancestry” (the PC term used in place of “race”) is similar in tone and temperament to the “evidence-based” versus patient-centric debate. Just as “cost” must not be the only issue in determining the most appropriate treatment for an individual patient, so too must race (pardonnez-moi — continent of ancestry) not be excluded because of political considerations.

Patient-centric, n’est pas?

Ms. Grady writes, “As a patient I would like to know about this kind of thing. More important, I would really like my doctor to know about it. If information linked to race could help somebody even a little, it would seem worth having. But it could be lost if researchers become wary of studying this subject or even talking about it.”

Is there even a debate here? Do we want doctors to use all relevant information so that their recommendations can be as targeted, effective and safe as possible? Or do we want them to close their eyes and write the prescription?


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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