According to MIT Technology Review, more than 26 million people have reported taking an at-home ancestry test. It’s apparent there is a willingness among consumers to share their DNA with ancestry databases to determine their family origins. However, this level of acceptance doesn’t yet exist to utilize this same technology to tell the story of a patient’s health.
Advancements in technology have given us the ability to learn about our ancestry — all from the comfort of our living room. At this pace, MIT Technology Review estimates 100 million people could be represented by these databases by the end of 2021.
As at-home ancestry tests become increasingly popular, a willingness to incorporate routine DNA testing into standard primary medical care should be just as commonplace. By tapping into lab data, the heartbeat of health care, we can improve the delivery of care in the following ways:
Moving to “health care” instead of “sick care”
Unfortunately, many of our interactions with physicians and doctors are more about “sick care” rather than “health care.” These episodic medical encounters are missing critical timely information about a person’s overall medication regimen, pre-existing conditions, allergies and genetic predispositions in the limited time the physician has with the patient. The physician is forced to respond to ailments with prescriptions that could be harmful based on one’s individual ‘genetic code,’ or react unfavorably with other medications.
A “preventative” health care approach would prepare and document the basic patient information so acute medication choices will be safe and avoid drug-to-drug reactions, or adverse individual reactions based on genetics.
Prevision Medicine uses pharmacogenetic testing (PGx) to understand the biological code of the patient and how different medicines may react in the body favorably or unfavorably. It’s a simple test that occurs by swabbing a patient’s mouth with a cotton swab. The cells collected are tested for DNA that unlocks a doctor’s ability to provide preventive care long before a patient enters a stage of chronic illness and resulting episodes of acute care. This genetic roadmap also ensures doctors have this vital information when acute sick-care visits occur. This prevents patients from incurring costly adverse reaction based on genetic complications — even death — from medications that are meant to help them.
Better patient privacy and confidentiality
A DNA test performed by a health care provider is protected by privacy and security regulations through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but at-home tests through consumer testing sites are not protected in the same ways. Given that consumer testing is so popular, it implies that patients would be even more willing to participate in pharmacogenetic testing with their doctor that is HIPAA secured. Doctors that reassure patients about the security of their health information will have greater success in obtaining the DNA sample that improves the patient’s treatment plan, overall care and reduces the amount of money spent on care overall.
Lower health care costs
As consumer DNA testing grows, patients are increasingly sharing results with their doctors in an effort to understand how it could help their overall treatment plan, especially if medical issues or precursor conditions are discovered. Enabling doctors through precision medicine to make better, safer, and more informed medication and laboratory test decisions prevents trial-and-error methods of care which can become extremely costly for patients. Precision medicine allows doctors to use DNA screening to deliver high-value care. Patients, insurance providers and doctors would benefit from what the National Center for Biotechnology Information defines as “the best care for the patient, with the optimal result for the circumstances, delivered at the right price.”
Earlier detection for a proactive response
Precision medicine can enable health care providers to find and address an illness before it becomes a larger, more lethal issue. It also assists in treating the issue in ways that won’t cause additional harm to patients. The popularity of consumer, personalized DNA testing at home gives credibility to the PGx testing and precision medicine many health care systems have already adopted. Two-thirds of doctors surveyed by Cardinal Health in 2018 said they were already using DNA screening as part of routine clinical care and another 25% want to include screenings for patient decisions within the following year.
Essentially, a simple DNA test can pave the way to a better quality of life through a personalized approach to health care treatment. The direct-to-consumer market for DNA testing — an estimated $310 million industry — grows substantially each year