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10,000 NorthShore Patients Will Get Free Genetic Testing. Could This Improve Primary Care?

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   January 10, 2019

The goal is to improve outcomes and lower costs through precision medicine. 

The practice of genomic medicine in a primary care setting just got a boost. Ten thousand times.

On Wednesday, NorthShore University HealthSystem, in partnership with population genomics technology company Color, announced its DNA10K initiative, a program that will provide free genetic testing to 10,000 patients as part of their annual exam with their primary care practitioner.

"NorthShore has long been committed to integrating genomics into the frontline of care, our primary care practices," says Kristen Murtos, MBA, NorthShore’s chief administrative and strategy officer. "Our partnership with Color takes that to the next level."

Fresh off the stage at the 37th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, where she participated in a panel discussion about precision medicine, Murtos told HealthLeaders in a phone interview, "Our belief, that we intend to test and demonstrate with this pilot, is by incorporating additional genomic data [into a patient's care], it will position us to provide more proactive, preventative, even preemptive care that will result in better outcomes for our patients."

Indeed, the hope of precision medicine is to achieve those goals, and the massive scale of NorthShore's efforts will likely be closely watched by leaders at other health systems who are considering the best way to utilize and deploy this type of testing, along with the data it produces.

Leadership is Committed to Promise of Precision Medicine

NorthShore's dedication to this endeavor is backed by an undisclosed financial commitment, as the health system is picking up the tab for patient testing. Murtos credits the organization's leadership with recognizing the potential of genomics and being "willing to make the investment to really understand what the long-term opportunity might be for the benefits and impact of population-scale personalized medicine."

The opportunity to reduce healthcare costs provides another incentive and factors into long-term goals. "If by making this investment and being able to identify, intersect with, or prevent disease earlier," says Murtos, "[we want to know if we are] able to ultimately bend the overall cost curve and reduce the total cost of care."

Evanston, Illinois-based NorthShore, a four-hospital system which serves as the principal teaching affiliate for the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, has some unique assets that will support this endeavor. The recently renamed Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine was established in 2015 to provide customized patient care and treatment based on an individual’s unique genetic characteristics and health history. In addition, NorthShore's Center for Medical Genetics provides targeted testing for a wide spectrum of single genes responsible for conditions that span every medical discipline and specialty.

"A fully integrated electronic medical record and 15 years of patient history across our organization provides another critical element of information," says Murtos.

Initiative Tied to Primary Care

Beginning in April, patients will be notified about the opportunity to participate in DNA10K through NorthShore's online patient portal, but cannot sign up for testing without an in-person consultation with a primary care practitioner who's a member of NorthShore Medical Group. Once the patient understands the program and consents, a blood sample will be drawn and sent to Color's CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited lab for analysis.

An earlier initiative to enroll 1,000 patients in the program was adopted by more than 40% of those eligible, "significantly beating expectations of the pilot program," according to a news release. "This is a strong indicator of patients' interest in understanding genetic factors that can influence health and the opportunity to work with NorthShore care providers to make more informed treatment or prevention decisions," the release says.

The test includes screening for the following:

  • Cancer: A thorough look at 30 genes to better guide a screening and prevention plan for breast, ovarian, uterine, colon, melanoma, pancreatic, stomach, and prostate cancers.
  • Heart: Examination of 30 genes associated with genetic forms of heart disease, such as inherited high cholesterol, that may be evaluated differently from conditions without a genetic cause.
  • Medications: Analysis of 14 genes associated with medication response.

Patients will be personally notified of concerning results and referred to genetic counselors or specialists for appropriate care. In addition to their NorthShore primary care provider, patients also will have access to board-certified genetic counselors and clinical pharmacists from Color and NorthShore. "This collaborative group can help interpret test results and develop personalized risk and screening guidelines to better inform care throughout a patient's life," the release says.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


Genomic testing positions the health system to provide more proactive, preventative, and preemptive care.

NorthShore is picking up the tab for testing 10,000 primary care patients.

The effort will be supported by NorthShore's Center for Personalized Medicine and Center for Genetics.

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