There's a lot of talk about the potential for personalized medicine to lower drug costs.
Genetic testing has been around for a few years, and it's being used to customize drug regimens for patients by better understanding how patients metabolize drugs. But proponents of individualized medicine are urging patience.
Konstantinos Lazaridis, MD, associate director of the Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, says that genetic testing is readily available and relatively inexpensive, costing between $300 and $400 per patient, although it's not yet covered by insurance.
"It provides information about how you metabolize more than 300 medications that are commonly used in practice," Lazaridis says. "What we have not proven is whether this reduces costs, and it will take some time to do that because it requires testing a lot of people to prove the financial benefit."
"The other thing is that it doesn't give you information from every medication that is out in the market," he says. "There are some medications that are very expensive, such as medications used in oncology. This testing is not going to give you the answer, because it doesn't have a way to address the metabolism."
Another problem for genetic testing is that most clinicians wouldn't know how to interpret the results, "so they'll feel uncomfortable using the test."
Beyond that, advocates for genetic testing have not done a good job integrating the testing and results into the providers' workflow.
"It needs to be streamlined and, to be frank, we're working on it but we don't have a solution, because it's not an easy answer," Lazaridis says.
"If the interpretation and incorporation of testing into the practice is very cumbersome, nobody's going to use it. If something takes a lot of time to explain to the patient or to prescribe the right dose, nobody's going to use it," he says.
Lazaridis says genetic testing has value, but that stakeholders need to prove their point.
"We need to show that it improves the outcomes for medications," he says, "and we have to prove that we saved dollars, that we reduce readmissions, that our treatments become more effective so people don't come back with the same problem."
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.