Pharmacogenetics testing’s place in long-term disability programs
Sun Life collaborated with the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in 2017 for a pilot project offering mental health disability-related pharmacogenetics testing to plan partners. It integrated pharmacogenetics screening into its handicap recovery toolkit after having seen promising outcomes.
After all, most Canadian insurers are undertaking pilot projects to examine this new technology to assess the plan participants for chronic pain and mental health problems.
The pharmacogenetics examination isn’t a service to diagnose; it won’t reveal if the chances are higher than average in breast cancer or Parkinson’s. Instead, the genes involved in the metabolism of drugs are specified. Pillcheck’s customers, who deal with insurers, corporate benefits programs, and benefits consultants, may get their test reports sent to their doctors and pharmacists. Of course, the great appeal for businesses that subscribe to this program reduces sick days for employees:
In the pilot program, patients witnessed a steady ’31 percent decrease of their symptoms after medication, driven by the examination’ according to Marie-Chantal Côté, Sun Life’s market development vice chairman.’ “We have a high level of commitment from members of the plan that indicates us that members of the plan want their drug regime empowerment to help them make decisions.”
As per Christopher McMaster, research head of the Department of Genetics at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Nova Scotia, pharmacogenetics will grow into mainstream practice in Canada over the next decade. But he doesn’t think it’s a significant business authority such as GE. “This data is going to be the responsibility of prescribing doctors,” says McMaster. In other words, the physician will ultimately order the very same swab test as Pillcheck, and you don’t need a health service that your employer sponsors.
At present, a PGx testing insurance provider’s task is to reimburse clients who take tests and who have no access to this information. This means there is no penalty if, say, a medical practitioner then prescribes a medication other than the test results’ recommendations.
Challenges and opportunities
Among the employers that provide pharmacogenetics testing to plan members are GE Canada and Staples Canada, a pilot project. In 2018, the pilot of GE consisted of 10 short-term disabled workers. In the same year, Staples Canada launched a pilot to assist workers with their quickest return to work by discovering the best drugs.
Pharmacogenetics testing, usually performed using the cheek swab, examines an individual’s genetic makeup to determine how they respond to a specific medicinal product. This is a way to ensure that the best drug for a person is taken at the right moment, Côté says. “The benefits include encouraging [persons] and their doctors to get efficient care quicker, so they can be brought back to work quickly, saving benefits and potentially cutting costs for absenteeism and employer incapacity.”
The tests, generally ordered by an individual doctor, cost between $250 and $500, says Fatima Di Biase, Health and Benefits Manager at Mercer Canada. She says both parties must be involved because the examination includes patients and their physicians. “Patients are not always wholly comprehensive of the test themselves and, specifically, of how the test will be communicated and of how some people will be shared.
Di Biase says that There must be transparent information about science and must alleviate potential secrecy concerns. “The other obstacle is the physician group’s acceptance and implementation of some of the assessments since it is a newer field for the general practitioner community. It also takes time for them to understand and analyze the results and know-how to work with others and find the basis for the ultimate therapy.”