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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Precision Health: The Role of the Social and Behavioral Sciences in Advancing the Vision

  • Author(s): Hekler, Eric
  • Tiro, Jasmin A
  • Hunter, Christine M
  • Nebeker, Camille
  • et al.

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In 2015, Collins and Varmus articulated a vision for precision medicine emphasizing molecular characterization of illness to identify actionable biomarkers to support individualized treatment. Researchers have argued for a broader conceptualization, precision health. Precision health is an ambitious conceptualization of health, which includes dynamic linkages between research and practice as well as medicine, population health, and public health. The goal is a unified approach to match a full range of promotion, prevention, diagnostic, and treatment interventions to fundamental and actionable determinants of health; to not just address symptoms, but to directly targetgenetic, biological, environmental, and social and behavioral determinants of health.


The purpose of this paper is to elucidate the role of social and behavioral sciences within precision health.

Main body

Recent technologies, research frameworks, and methods are enabling new approaches to measure, intervene, and conduct social and behavioral science research. These approaches support three opportunities in precision health that the social and behavioral sciences could colead including: (a) developing interventions that continuously “tune” to each person’s evolving needs; (b) enhancing and accelerating links between research and practice; and (c) studying mechanisms of change in real-world contexts. There are three challenges for precision health: (a) methods of knowledge organization and curation; (b) ethical conduct of research; and (c) equitable implementation of precision health.


Precision health requires active coleadership from social and behavioral scientists. Prior work and evidence firmly demonstrate why the social and behavioral sciences should colead with regard to three opportunity and three challenge areas.

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