This is the first in a series of four posts for corporate executives, medical and HR directors who are considering or interested in providing genomic testing to your employees and have concerns, might be confused or need clarity about which DNA-based testing will provide your company and employees the most value.
Having pioneered genomic testing in the corporate workplace over 10 years ago, we would like to share our real-world experience and knowledge to help you clarify your goals and objectives about DNA testing, shorten your learning curve in understanding what genomics can do, identify the program you need and help you to maximize your investment by setting metrics early on and realizing measurable and sustainable outcomes.
The number of DNA-based products for the corporate wellness market has increased exponentially compared to 5 years ago. However, along with these technology advancements associated with DNA testing comes with lots of confusion and sometimes difficulty finding answers to your questions. One of the most common questions we hear from company executives is what are the main differences between genetic and genomic testing? These are the two most popular commercial techniques used to evaluate an individual’s DNA and risk for certain diseases, and each has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the company’s corporate wellness goals and needs. As a company implements a genomic medicine wellness program, the conversation then leads to how best to interpret and communicate genomic test results—from either an entertainment or clinical perspective. The value and benefit of each is again determined by the needs of the company and its employees. These two topics are discussed in detail in this post.
In subsequent posts, we will address how genomic testing is used to personalize diet and lifestyle for disease prevention or treatment in a corporate wellness environment. And, in the last post in this series, we will show how genomic testing can benefit the employee and the company when one or more medications are prescribed to treat an illness. Our comprehensive genomic testing and genomic medicine model can match the right interventions with the right individual, improving health outcomes and saving everyone time and money.
Differences between genetic and genomic test results
Let’s set the record straight—while it is rather easy to collect a person’s DNA using a cheek swab or saliva sample, understanding the two types of DNA data – genetic or genomic – can be complicated. Even healthcare professionals often have difficulty understanding the differences between these two scientific disciplines.
Genetic mutations such as sickle cell anemia are fairly black and white, with known predictive outcomes of mutations for specific diseases. Most physicians had training that included genetics, and they can easily follow recommendations from a genetic test report. For example, if an individual has a genetic mutation for the inherited form of breast cancer (i.e. BRCA1, BRCA2), then the doctor might recommend preventive surgery (mastectomy), or increased surveillance to catch the disease in early stages. As these genetic test results can have serious implications, it is important to know that the validity and accuracy of results and their interpretation are high. A recent study by Tandy-Connor et al, published in the journal Nature, found that 40% of direct -to-consumer genetic testing results were incorrect, leading to false-positive results and errors in diagnosis and treatment. (Tandy-Connor, S et al. False-positive results released by direct-to-consumer genetic tests highlight the importance of clinical confirmation testing for appropriate patient care. Genet Med. 22 March 2018)
Genomics, on the other hand, is quite different. Instead of being black and white, it is many shades of gray. This can create confusion if a lay person or healthcare professional is interpreting genomic test results as if the data were genetic mutations. Genomic results represent subtle changes in the language of a person’s DNA, not manifesting as a classical inherited disease, but rather altering a person’s susceptibility to the prevalent chronic diseases of the 21st century—obesity, heart disease, cancer, anxiety, depression, diabetes, neurological disorders, etc. In the 1990s, The Human Genome Project was tasked to determine the underlying mechanism(s) of human chronic diseases, given their escalating financial costs associated with a person’s care, treatment and recovery. Their discoveries have changed medicine and ushered in the era of genomics. The research discovered that nearly all the major human chronic diseases occur because of interactions between a person’s subtle DNA changes called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and environmental factors such as pollution, a diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals, and/or emotional drama and trauma. Genomic testing identifies these gene SNPs and, when interpreted correctly, provides DNA-directed interventions ranging from lower cost dietary changes, vitamin and mineral supplementation, and lifestyle choices to appropriate medication choices to change the health outcomes, and reduce long-term costs. Genomic testing also provides opportunities to empower your employees to actually change potential health outcomes.
When we use genomic testing as part of a genomic medicine corporate wellness program, we are often able to greatly enhance existing wellness strategies. We’ve also proven this approach dramatically improves outcomes and your bottom line. Data from a four-year program showed that not only did the incidence and severity of chronic disease amongst the employees decrease, the self-insured company also realized a 20% reduction in healthcare expenditures each year. Furthermore, health benefits and cost savings were realized within 3 to 6 months of initiating genomic testing utilizing our propriety comprehensive, GENESIS Matrix™ genomic medicine healthcare model.
As genomic or genetic testing is added to a corporate wellness program, it is critical to establish realistic outcomes, success goalposts, and desired ROI. It’s important to be clear about the goals of the program and what’s to be measured, for both employees and the company, to ensure the appropriate testing and resources are chosen.
Understanding entertainment versus clinical genomic testing.
If your company selects genomic testing, then the next question to ask is whether the goal is to provide your employees genomic information that is clinical in nature, or is geared toward providing “entertainment” for them. DNA results that are designed to entertain typically are inexpensive and provide very basic information about diet and exercise, along perhaps with personality or other “fun” traits. Specific guidance on what to do with this information or putting it into context with their other health and wellness data is often lacking. In contrast, clinical genomic results address health and wellness on a deeper, more clinical level, providing specific action steps and guidance on implementing and assessing DNA-directed interventions. The graphic below summaries the difference between these two options.
To realize optimal health outcomes when working with clinical genomic test results, we have found that it is critically important to integrate them with a person’s clinical care plan. We understand most clinicians don’t have a strong genomic medicine background, and for that reason, all of the healthcare professionals providing clinical genomic support in our corporate wellness programs, are trained in our 100-hour Genomic Medicine & Culinary Genomics Certification Program. This comprehensive training program ensures that each clinician understands the complexities of our genomic test results, can interpret them appropriately, and can integrate a person’s DNA blueprint into our proprietary comprehensive, whole person health model to personalize disease prevention or treatment strategies. You will gain more insights around this in subsequent installments of this series.
Instituting the appropriate and personalized DNA testing program for your employee population, clearly defining the goals and objectives of the program, deciding whether to test for genetic mutations or genomic gene alterations, determining how best to communicate genomic test results, and how to create both short-term and long-term ROI requires a lot of forethought, discussion and careful planning. It’s important to work with a DNA testing company that has extensive experience designing and implementing successful programs that are individualized to the needs and goals of your company and employees.
Are you ready to explore how DNA testing can enhance your employee health, improve worker productivity and reduce your healthcare costs? Whether you are just beginning the process, or are ready to upgrade your existing corporate wellness program to include clinical genomic testing, Genoma International has the answers.
Learn more about Genoma International’s Corporate Wellness Programs here>