The Benefits of Integrating Pharmacogenetics into the workplace

Dec 5, 2018 6:32:00 AM / by Antoine Begin, LL.B., MBA

pharmacogenetic benefits

Faced with steadily increasing prescription drug and group insurance costs, many businesses are turning to various medical innovations in order to identify solutions that will help reduce the bill.

Pharmacogenetics is one of the most promising avenues, as it allows for the individualized treatment of patients based on their genetic make-up. Are you aware of the benefits of integrating pharmacogenetics into the workplace? Let’s get into specifics.

What is pharmacogenetics all about?

Pharmacogenetic testing consists in a DNA saliva test that analyzes the genes responsible for metabolizing medication. The purpose of pharmacogenetics is to anticipate how a patient will respond to a drug, thus helping the patient and his/her attending physician better determine the best drug and dosage, in order to reduce the risk of side effects and minimize trial and error.

Metabolism has a major impact on the use of drugs. To better understand how it works, watch the following animation where metabolic enzymes are compared to a blender.

 

What are the benefits of offering pharmacogenetic testing to employees?

Deploying pharmacogenetics in the workplace has many benefits for both employers and employees:

  • Reduced disability period for mental health conditions and chronic pain;
  • Reduced costs associated with presenteeism and absenteeism;

According to “Benefits Canada”, mental health issues represent at least 30% of short-term disability claims and 56-70% of related costs. On average, these costs amount to almost $18,000 per employee, for a disability period of about 65 days.

These figures are not that surprising, given that only one out of three patients will be in remission after trying the first antidepressant, based on a study published in the “American Journal of Psychiatry”. Moreover, it will take two to four weeks before one can observe the effect of a medication on the symptoms. And when the physician changes the medication, the patient will have to wait a full week without taking any medication before trying the new drug. This is a lengthy and inefficient process, which two out of three patients experience at least once.

In terms of benefits, pharmacogenetics can significantly contribute to improving these statistics, by limiting trial and error and by allowing for faster identification of incompatible drugs and required dosage changes.

How can pharmacogenetics be integrated into the workplace?

Of course, a successful project depends on successful integration. Such integration is key to taking full advantage of the benefits of pharmacogenetics.

First of all, confidentiality must be preserved by following the principles of the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (S.C. 2017, c. 3). Thus, employees are always free to undergo genetic testing or not. Their participation must be entirely voluntary and cannot affect the outcome of the claim. The employer is not allowed to obtain information on employees who undergo genetic testing – identify them or access their test results.

Second, the conditions the employer wishes to address must be determined. The benefits of pharmacogenetics have been particularly demonstrated in the field of mental health. However, other conditions such as chronic pain, ADD/H or heart disease can also be covered.

Third, the eligibility criteria need to be determined. At this point, employers must decide whether they want to cover only employees on disability leave, or also working employees with certain conditions to prevent potential disability leaves. Several other criteria may be applied, such as the occurrence of side effects.

Fourth, employers must determine how employees will be approached about the project. When the project is intended for all employees, an internal communication to all will be the preferred option. The release can redirect employees to an online portal, such as the one found at www.biogeniq.ca/employe, where they will be able to verify their eligibility and order their kit online. When the project is directed toward employees on disability leave, Human Resources can send them a form with which they can order their kit if they have a covered condition. Finally, AGA Benefit Solutions is open to cooperating on a project by identifying and contacting patients for whom pharmacogenetic testing would be useful.

Return on investment: a key consideration

As with any sound management practice, performance indicators must absolutely be introduced to assess the benefits of a project.

AGA Benefit Solutions can support you in measuring the reduction in average disability duration brought about by the introduction of pharmacogenetic testing.

But how can the positive impact of pharmacogenetics on presenteeism and employee symptoms be measured? As part of pharmacogenetic projects, it may be useful to implement a standardized questionnaire, the type of which is often used in clinical research on symptom improvement.

Thus, at the onset of the process, the employee answers a first series of standardized questions on his/her condition, symptoms and productivity. A few months later, following changes in medication, the same questions are answered a second time. This allows for quantitative measurement of the improvement in symptoms and productivity.

With these and other available performance indicators, it is possible to promptly calculate the project’s return on investment, in order to provide the employer with a timely overview of the impact of pharmacogenetics on their employees’ wellness.

In a nutshell

Pharmacogenetics is an innovative solution that offers more effective individualized treatments for employees on medication. Implementing this solution can potentially lower the cost of group insurance, particularly with respect to mental health.

Other genetic tests are also available to employers who want to invest in their employees’ health by helping them develop a healthy lifestyle and live healthier for longer.

Stay tuned to the AGA Benefit Solutions blog to learn more about nutrigenetics, which adapts nutrition to an individual’s DNA, and about genetic screening assessment, which is used to analyze a person’s susceptibility to cancer and other hereditary diseases.

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About the author Antoine Begin, LL.B., MBA

Antoine Begin, LL.B., MBA
Antoine's genetics make him a slow metabolizer of CYP2C9 and TPMT enzymes. He would therefore experience side effects with drugs for arthritis and little efficacy for some cancer treatments. To his delight, however, he is a fast metabolizer of caffeine. Director of sales and business development at BiogeniQ since 2015, he has contributed to the implementation of various projects and strategic partnerships aimed at the adoption of genetics by the medical profession, by insurers and by employers.