School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.
Public health relies on technologies to produce and analyse data, as well as effectively develop and implement policies and practices. An example is the public health practice of epidemiology, which relies on computational technology to monitor the health status of populations, identify disadvantaged or at risk population groups and thereby inform health policy and priority setting. Critical to achieving health improvements for the underserved population of people living with rare diseases is early diagnosis and best care. In the rare diseases field, the vast majority of diseases are caused by destructive but previously difficult to identify protein-coding gene mutations. The reduction in cost of genetic testing and advances in the clinical use of genome sequencing, data science and imaging are converging to provide more precise understandings of the 'person-time-place' triad. That is: who is affected (people); when the disease is occurring (time); and where the disease is occurring (place). Consequently we are witnessing a paradigm shift in public health policy and practice towards 'precision public health'.Patient and stakeholder engagement has informed the need for a national public health policy framework for rare diseases. The engagement approach in different countries has produced highly comparable outcomes and objectives. Knowledge and experience sharing across the international rare diseases networks and partnerships has informed the development of the Western Australian Rare Diseases Strategic Framework 2015-2018 (RD Framework) and Australian government health briefings on the need for a National plan.The RD Framework is guiding the translation of genomic and other technologies into the Western Australian health system, leading to greater precision in diagnostic pathways and care, and is an example of how a precision public health framework can improve health outcomes for the rare diseases population.Five vignettes are used to illustrate how policy decisions provide the scaffolding for translation of new genomics knowledge, and catalyze transformative change in delivery of clinical services. The vignettes presented here are from an Australian perspective and are not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to provide insights into how a new and emerging 'precision public health' paradigm can improve the experiences of patients living with rare diseases, their caregivers and families.The conclusion is that genomic public health is informed by the individual and family needs, and the population health imperatives of an early and accurate diagnosis; which is the portal to best practice care. Knowledge sharing is critical for public health policy development and improving the lives of people living with rare diseases.
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