Modern medicine has gotten pretty amazing – millions of lives are saved or made easier every year because of the drugs that we’ve invented. Yet as wonderful as some of our new drugs are, a lot of people are injured or killed every year because of reactions to prescriptions. Very oddly, this data is not collected in Canada, but statistics tell us that there are over 770,000 injuries or deaths due to drug reactions per year in the United States. In the next 12 months you will likely be hearing more about something that could change all that, and it’s called Pharmacogenetic testing. Ooh fancy words!
When our bodies can’t break down a drug fast enough the levels build up and you end up with reactions or side effects.
Essentially pharmacogenetic testing results in the ability to see which drugs you can and cannot take, based on your DNA, so that we can reduce cases where people have reactions. But why do we have reactions to drugs and how does it work? When we take a drug they need to travel down certain biochemical pathways so the body can break them down. As they travel down the pathways, our genes direct the creation of proteins that then create enzymes to break down said drugs. That’s all good, unless you have a mutation that breaks down that drug differently than it should. Maybe it breaks it down too fast so its less effective, or maybe it breaks it down too slow. When our bodies can’t break down a drug fast enough the levels build up and you end up with reactions or side effects. SUPER geeky stuff i know, but actually pretty freaking interesting.
employees taking wrong meds are 4X more likely to be on short term or Long term disability.
Now, Drug companies have to state which pathways are used for each particular drug. This means that if you get pharmacogenetic testing done, it changes the whole prescription game. They can now cross reference every drug that won’t work for you because of any genetic mutation or “polymorphism”and prescribe based on that. Pretty awesome so far right?!
So obviously this will help people big time, but what does it mean for benefit plans? Well, some studies show that employees taking wrong meds are 4X more likely to be on short term or Long term disability. Pharmacogenetic companies are piloting programs with insurers to focus on to trying and reduce claims, particularly in the area of mental health. Drugs for mental health are also typically in the top two or three drug categories under many plans. So the hope is this will result in reduced ltd claims and duration and save money on drugs!
If we can reduce duration and instance of disability claims, and reduce the cost of drugs, thats a huge win for everyone. If you want to consider integrating this, purely from a healthcare perspective for yourself or your employees, you do have that option. Pharmacogenetic testing is an eligible medical expense under the income tax act so it’s possible to claim under a Health Care Spending account. It can also be added similar to an EAP program where you pay a monthly premium or pay as you go, based on number of members and receive a group rate.