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Polymorphic Medicine: A New Approach to Health and Care

By Patrick Quinlan, M.D.

Polymorphic Medicine is a new approach to health and care encompassing a whole life health model, from self-care and disease prevention to treatment of acute and chronic conditions. It is the optimal blend of self-care, physical care, and virtual care — matching patient needs and preferences with available resources to maximize outcomes.

A Paradigm Shift Towards the Next Evolution of Healthcare

If the first decade of the 21st century was characterized by the “systemization” of healthcare with the introduction of electronic medical records, and the last decade saw the rise of genomic based personalized medicine, we are now on the cusp of transitioning to the next phase — a re-humanization of healthcare with the system oriented around the individual, enabled by technology, and informed by advanced analytics.

If COVID-19 has been the tipping point for the widespread adoption of virtual care and remote monitoring, the time is now for a new type of healthcare, one that is focused on reducing the overall burden of disease at a population level and supporting a person to better manage their own health at an individual level. This requires a level of personal responsibility and accountability by the individual, accompanied by a legislative environment that prioritizes the promotion of health, while discouraging policies that undermine it. And it requires a systematic digital and cultural transformation in the way that healthcare is designed, delivered, and experienced.

Virtual Care provides the vehicle to rethink our ideas about health and the treatment of disease. Polymorphic Medicine, when fully implemented with the needs and preferences of individuals at the center and where institutions and technology serve them and those who care for them, is the path to success – less disease, suffering, and cost with greater health benefit and convenience. Virtual Care served by Polymorphic Medicine and enabled by IoT is more than a mere extension of current practices – it is the path to a fundamentally new approach and ultimate success.

From Institutional Medicine to Individual Medicine

Today, the health tech community has the capability to reduce the disease burden in the world and provide healthcare access for all, as we shift from “Institutional Medicine” to “Individual Medicine”.

We are transitioning from provider-centric care to people-centric care, enabling millions of others to engage in self-care via health tech and IoT.

Polymorphic Medicine is anchored in self-care and disease prevention, blending physical care, virtual care, and self-care to match the patient’s needs and preferences with local resources to achieve optimal outcomes. 

We need to create an environment that transitions from traditional “sick care” to wellness and prevention. This requires that people see healthcare in a whole new way — placing patient self-care as the central focus.

Solving the problem of healthcare has three important steps:

Focus on the right goal by asking the right question  

In other words, define the problem and identify the root cause; do not confuse cause with symptoms.

Any attempts at healthcare transformation need to address the symptoms and root cause simultaneously. It must be a two-pronged, highly coordinated attack and in the words of Apple we need to “Think different” if we want to achieve different outcomes. 

Our current focus is only on one prong — the Model of Care — which by itself, no matter how successfully designed and executed, will ultimately fail to meet the needs of the public. The multipliers of chronic disease will always generate demand for services greater than the ability to provide them. Reducing demand must go hand in hand with increasing supply. This is the most valuable lesson for those looking to transform their health system. It provides a clear warning as well as a great opportunity.

“The transition to Polymorphic Medicine will require true innovation as well as a change in mindset. The digital transformation of healthcare and the fundamental drivers of health and disease will require social innovation, much more a social grass roots movement than policy; a movement grounded in science but led by political and social institutions. Change management on a national scale will require popular acceptance to succeed. There is a science to change management. There is both an art and a discipline to discover and solve points of resistance, especially unspoken beliefs, goals, and commitments. Healthcare change is assisted by its own merit – the goal of a long and healthy life and the opportunity to achieve full individual potential; a movement grounded in compassion for others and a love of life and of family. In the end however, the prime requisite is a clear, compelling vision and the courage to pursue it.”

Describe the Ideal solution in detail from Healthcare to Lifecare

The desired end state is a healthy individual who understands his or her personal health risks and successfully manages them through healthy lifestyle choices, which are easy to practice in a social and physical environment conducive to health and enabled by a highly personalized support system. This future system is fully digitalized and layered with both automation (machine learning) and personal team support. It begins with the individual at home and works on a real-time basis. Virtual and physical care are seamlessly blended, based on the needs of the patient and their family. Much of chronic disease is successfully prevented, and that which presents is managed efficiently to lower levels of acuity. Medical care is delivered by teams in person and virtually to improve timely access and medical outcomes, and ultimately reduce costs.

Design a plan of implementation which works back from the future state to the present problem 

This is the Polymorphic approach to problem solving and it should encompass social change on a national scale and will require all of the elements of change management, with a special emphasis on social and political factors. Creating a compelling case for change and personal responsibility for a healthy lifestyle is the key to Polymorphic Medicine and is its principal challenge. A pervasive communication plan embedded in all forms of policymaking, education and media from the start is essential.

Health tech is uniquely positioned to drive a new wave of innovation in healthcare, simultaneously providing the point-of-care technology, virtual coordination and informed self-care that is needed to make a meaningful impact. These are the crucial elements that drive individual behavior change to motivate, enable, and inform a new approach to health. But technology alone will not suffice. Health tech and service designers must embrace the Polymorphic vision to create solutions that not only gather and report data, but also actively support direct patient care behaviors and reinforce desired outcomes.

Patrick Quinlan, M.D. is CEO and Co-Founder of Hippo Technologies, Inc. Dr. Quinlan has an extensive history in healthcare delivery, medical administration, governance, governmental relations, international business development, and business transactions. He has served as the CEO emeritus of the Ochsner Health System, lead director for the PanAmerican Life insurance Group, board member of Pack4U, and Advisory Board member of TractManager, IBERIABANK, and Perkin Industries.

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