Health & Wellness

Health & Wellness

Innovations in Healthcare

A Conversation with PinnacleCare’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Miles Varn

Dr. Miles Varn, the Chief Medical Officer of PinnacleCare, weighs in on incredible new medical advances and what steps you can take to make sure you’re always covered.

What are some of the advances you are seeing in various treatments these days?

Innovations in genomics are certainly leading to different treatment approaches that are more individualized and personalized. Being able to understand the exact mutation that causes diseases like sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis, for example, is very important because, to be able to intervene therapeutically, you first have to understand where the problem is. The sequencing processes to determine that used to take weeks and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, the processes and the machines are readily available so it’s becoming easier and cheaper to do.

How has that been helpful in treating diseases like cancer?

What we’ve learned is that different cancer tumors in different people have mutations that can be unique and important in terms of how they can be attacked. The simplest example is in breast cancer. We have tumor cells that may have certain markers for things like estrogen or progesterone or Her2. If they have those markers, you can use those as a target for therapy. There are drugs that target Her2 cancer specifically, that attach to that receptor and effectively treat it. And that therapy came from an understanding of the tumor itself and led to a therapeutic intervention that works. And, as we’re beginning to sequence cancers in tumors, we’re getting more and more information. So, for example, if you’re a patient at Dana Farber and you have a tumor removed, they do a full genomic sequencing of every tumor they remove. It’s very exciting, and I think that, over time, that care will transform from a shotgun approach to a more targeted, effective approach with fewer side effects and better outcomes.

What innovations have you seen with stem cell therapy in recent years?

Stem cell therapy is big in the news. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of offshore marketing that promises outcomes that just aren’t realistic. You know, to take a child with cerebral palsy to Mexico and give him stem cells and think that he’s going to be better, it just doesn’t work. However, we’re finding ways to introduce stems cells to try to program them to become certain things like nerve cells or blood cells or muscle cells. Those techniques are getting better and better, and we hope to one day use those techniques to create organs from scratch. If someone needs a liver transplant and they’re on the list but there’s no match, we will be able to create a liver in the lab and transplant it or create a kidney or a cornea. It’s still in the early stage, but it’s going to revolutionize those diseases in terms of finding solutions that don’t exist today. A lot of people die on the transplant list because there just aren’t enough organs.

Have there been any major breakthroughs as of late?

Just in the past year, there was an Australian science team that came up with a technique to take a skin cell and transform it into an embryonic stem cell. They’re not harvesting the tissue from abortions or any of that controversy. It’s the patient’s stem cell. And they’ve been able to actually grow a mini brain in the lab. What they can then do is take that mini brain and take stem cells from a patient’s brain tumor and recreate the tumor in the mini brain. Then, they can run tests to try out different drug combinations in the tumor and then take it back to individualizing therapies in the patient.

We've also heard that 3D printing is creating some incredible new innovations.

What I’ve been seeing all over the place are hearts and spines and other things that are printed before the surgeon actually operates. So you have a three-dimensional model of the organ you’re going to operate on before you actually go in and operate on it. It’s pretty fascinating.

What are some things that PinnacleCare has been working on as it relates to patient care?

A lot of what we do is connecting people to intelligence and thought leaders, scientists, clinicians who are doing the research actively on certain conditions. For years, we’ve been able to connect the patient to the right place or physician to ensure that they’re getting the best opportunity for a great outcome. It’s not so much a therapy or a test as really understanding where the intelligence is and making it easy to connect to it so patients can have a better experience. We’re connecting clients to the people in the world who are doing unique things.

What advice would you give to a patient to ensure that they’re financially prepared for any medical emergency?

First of all, you have to look carefully at whether or not you have choices when it comes to insurance. A lot of insurance companies are shrinking their networks. A network that used to be broad now might not include an MD Anderson, a Sloan-Kettering, a Dana Farber. And you’d know that in advance if you did your homework. Do your homework on your health plan and try and find a health plan that offers a broader network and caps the out-of-pocket costs. One thing that’s grown tremendously is this thing called Critical Illness Insurance. A lot of it is through employers. Allstate is the biggest seller of these policies to employers. Let’s say you’re diagnosed with cancer, if you qualify for this insurance, Allstate gives you a check for $20,000, and then you have that money to offset the cost of treatment or when you go out of network. You can prepare yourself to some extent by buying policies that cover the unexpected. We are now embedded in that policy so, if someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they get the money, but they also get our support. They not only have the means to offset the cost of treatment, but we can navigate them to the right people and the right places.

What suggestions do you have for patients to take care of themselves?

It’s really quite simple as far as what you should do. It’s simple for me to say, but harder to execute. What really leads to longevity is risk factor management. Get your mammogram; get your colonoscopy, vaccines. Beyond that, what are important are nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress management. The challenge is getting people motivated to come up with a plan to address each of those things, stress, in particular. People don’t meditate; they don’t come up with ways to reduce their stress. Sleep management. People are looking at their phones late into the night, distracted, and they’re not getting proper sleep, and we know that leads to problems later in life. I think what we do best is helping people become accountable in helping them realize those goals.

PinnacleCare disclosure: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC or its affiliates (the “Firm”) do not currently offer the private health advisory services provided by the Service Provider. The Service Provider is not an affiliate of the Firm. Any review of the Service Provider performed by the Firm was based on information from sources that we believe are reliable but we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. This referral should in no way be considered to be a solicitation by the Firm for business on behalf of the Service Provider, or an endorsement of the Service Provider by the Firm. The Firm makes no representations regarding the suitability or otherwise of the products or services provided by the Service Provider. There may be additional service providers for comparative purposes. If you choose to contact the Service Provider, we recommend that you interview such Service Provider, do thorough due diligence, and make your own independent decision.

The Firm will not receive a referral fee for referring you to the Service Provider. The Firm is a diversified financial service company with millions of individual clients, and corporations, institutions and governmental clients in several countries around the world. The Firm routinely enters into a variety of business relationships for which either the Firm receives compensation or pays for services, and such business relationships may include the named Service Provider, its employees or agents or companies affiliated with the Service Provider.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC reserves the right to change or terminate the Reserved program at any time and without notice. Reserved program participants accounts and activity are reviewed periodically to confirm that they continue to qualify for this program.

The views expressed herein are those of the PinnacleCare and do not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management or its affiliates. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Neither the information provided nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.

© 2017 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC.  Member SIPC.

Click here to see partner details

CRC 1461602 04/16
Have a Question? Contact the Service Center at 1-877-799-6772.
See which of your eligible clients are enrolled in Reserved Living & Giving and invite those who are not.