VISIONARY MESSAGE—President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Doctors have always recognized that every patient is unique, and doctors have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals. You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type—that was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to our genetic code was just as easy, just as standard? What if figuring out the right dose of medicine was as simple as taking our temperature?—Former President Obama, January 30, 2015, State of the Union Address

What former President Barack Obama is describing is precision medicine. With the launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015, he helped bring to people of the United States a new concept of health care that is tailored to the individual.

Precision medicine means that doctors will use patients’ medical histories, genetic information and relevant research to create a treatment plan designed for them. It will give doctors the tools they need to best care for and treat their patients, says Mylynda B. Massart, MD, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also medical director at UPMC Matilda H. Theiss Health Center.

“If doctors know what diseases patients are at risk for through genetic testing, we might be able to treat them in a way that would help prevent those diseases,” says Dr. Massart. “For example, people are at risk for cancer because they’re smokers. From research, I know that smokers have a certain chance of getting lung cancer. But with precision medicine, I might be able to tell patients that, based on their genetic information and family history, whether they will get a disease like cancer. Having that data will allow health care providers to talk specifically about their patients’ health.”

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