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Benefits idea: DNA testing

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The Obama administration is supporting expansion of access to precision medicine — efforts to use DNA tests to see which medical treatment options might work best for which patients.

Your employee benefits clients could get in on the precision medicine game now, by making sure their major medical plans cover the relevant DNA tests, or by giving employees a way to buy DNA tests with their own money through a worksite-based test purchase program.

See also: 4 non-traditional voluntary trends to watch in 2015

Why should your clients consider offering the tests?

Sometimes, drugs just don’t work. In other cases, adverse drug reactions can stretch treatment times far beyond their normal scopes, causing sharp increases in costs, and sometimes even physical harm to patients.

Take codeine, a pain medication. A normal dose effectively manages pain in most patients. That dose might provide delayed relief in a second patient, little relief in a third patient, and a dangerous overdose in a fourth patient.

One new way to assess how patients will respond to drugs is to screen their genes for specific traits that are known to affect drug absorption. Groups like the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium are putting together DNA-based dosage recommendations for a wide variety of medications.

In the past, testing ordinary, healthy employees for drug response “polymorphisms,” or gene quirks, was impractical. DNA testers had to draw blood from the patients, then use specialized shipping services to send the blood to the screening lab. The processes the labs used to analyze the blood were expensive.

Today, all DNA testers have to do to get samples is ask patients to rub a little cotton against the insides of their cheeks, or ask the patients to spit into tubes. The analysis process is quick and cheap.

The information a qualified lab can get from the analysis may reduce the chances of a patient experiencing treatment failure or unpleasant, potentially costly side effects.

The results a worker gets from a DNA test may grow even more useful over time, as researchers learn more about what each polymorphism included in the results means.

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