It was great to see Angelina Jolie’s eloquent op-ed in the May 14 edition of The New York Times. She carefully wove her personal experience with the importance of genetic testing and using the resulting information to make an informed health decision. I applaud her decision to go public with her story as a great example of patient empowerment but also as a powerful example of personalized medicine in action.
Despite all the advances we have made in recent years, we all know that the concept of personalized medicine is still foreign to most Americans. PMC recently conducted focus groups which strongly reminded us of the uphill battle that remains to gain public understanding of and support for personalized medicine. In our groups only one or two out of 52 participants were able to correctly describe the concept.
We found that people are very enthusiastic about personalized medicine once they understand it but it is a complex concept which is often misunderstood. It turns out that giving clear, specific examples of personalized diagnostics and treatments is the best way to explain what personalized medicine is and the benefits it can bring.
Ms. Jolie’s contribution demonstrates that without patients who are educated, empowered to get tested and to act, the progress and innovation could be for naught. We need to make sure that patients are knowledgeable enough to pursue personalized options for their own health but also so that they are motivated to support policies that foster continued progress in this area.
Angelina Jolie’s op-ed is an important and high-profile contribution to the discourse about patient experience and personalized medicine. Her voice echoes the words of Adriana Jenkins, who courageously shared her battle against breast cancer and joins other advocates like Donna Cryer, who works tirelessly to remind all stakeholders about how personalize medicine is a patient-centric approach to healthcare. Courageous individuals, like Ms. Jolie, who publicly share their personal stories have the power to bolster both public and media discourse around patient empowerment, for example with CNN “Early Start” co-anchor Zoraida Sambolin’s disclosure of her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment decision live on air.
I hope that Ms. Jolie’s op-ed raises awareness of personalized medicine and the options patients have to take control of their healthcare. No single organization alone can raise public awareness on the scale that we need but through a steady stream of individual op-eds, blog posts, conversations, etc., we in the personalized medicine community can spotlight more stories like this and begin to educate the public. I look forward to hearing more voices from the community and hope that their contributions will support personalized medicine research, patient and provider engagement, and thoughtful policy.