Group Benefits and Genomic Revolution

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In our last post, we talked about the IT revolution in healthcare. It started in the 60s with Electronic Health Records, but that was just the beginning. New, ever-accelerating innovations have been sweeping the industry ever since. Today, let’s look at the innovations that have emerged in the realm of genomic medicine, and take a minute to ponder what this means for group benefits in the workplace.

Genomic medicine – the next new thing

Genomic medicine (also called personalized medicine) is changing the face of healthcare as we speak. NHGRI defines genomic medicine as an emerging medical discipline that involves using genomic information about an individual as part of their clinical care (e.g., for diagnostic or therapeutic decision-making) and the health outcomes and policy implications of that clinical use. Already, genomic medicine is making an impact in the fields of oncology, pharmacology, rare and undiagnosed diseases, and infectious disease.  Once the purview of pioneers and celebrities alone, human genomic information is now a relatively inexpensive resource, available to everyday people. In fact, accessibility within the last five years has exploded.

The market reflects that. According to G2 Intelligence, in 2010 genomic medicine was valued at $14.3 billion, and since then, it’s been growing at 16 percent each year.

Here’s a quick tour of the leading edge.

  • 23andMe. Family tree-building just got more fun. For a relatively low fee, anyone can submit a small saliva sample to this organization and learn which populations around the world their DNA comes from.
  • DNAdirect. Low-cost genomic sequencing from companies like this one can improve disease management and lower healthcare costs, giving physicians deeper insight so they can call for better-targeted tests and treatments.
  • Genomic Health. Similarly, this cancer company is using genomic information to determine whether patients would benefit from treatments like chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, to assess whether or not their disease is aggressive and identify what approach would be most successful.
  • Knome. Meanwhile, organizations like this one provide human genome interpretation services so that doctors can act on the information that genomic medicine offers. Knome harnesses big data to help clients “identify the genetic basis of disease, tumor growth, and drug response”.
  • Complete Genomics. Like all of the organizations above, this company’s goal is to improve human health. It does so by delivering the technology to understand, prevent, diagnose and treat various health conditions using genomic medicine.

How will genomic medicine impact group benefits?

Could genomic medicine become a standard option for group benefits plans in the United States? The answer is unclear. However, it is fast-becoming an indicator of forward-thinking in healthcare institutions, a development which would suggest that genomic medicine is only going to get bigger.

Last spring Anna Sharratt, a contributor to Benefits Canada Magazine, mulled over the same question. “When it comes to getting the right drug to the right patient for optimal results, pharmacogenetics—which studies how genetics influence how well a drug works—is a game changer,” Sharratt said.

Genomic medicine could do a lot for group benefits. Not only does it give doctors the information to bypass treatments that wouldn’t work, but it could also eliminate the need for prior authorization and pharmaceutical trial and error. Translation: it could save employers from paying for procedures that aren’t necessary or effective.

Genomic medicine is one more example of how IT is revolutionizing healthcare. We encourage you to take advantage of what’s out there, and to keep your team educated about wellness resources available. As a first step, download our handout “Apps for Life,” distribute it to your team and invite them to improve their health with these seven motivating wellness apps.

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