By Jonathan Kaupanger
The VA is testing an app that gives veterans a copy of their own genetic information and helps clinicians give tailor-made care, based on genetics.
When the Genetic Diagnostic Testing App (GDx) goes live this summer, Veterans Affairs will be the first U.S. health care provider to give genetic testing data directly to patients. With GDx – and their individual genetic information – veterans will be able to share info with VA and non-VA medical providers – giving them access to highly-individualized and better healthcare.
The Human Genome Project (HGP), which was an international effort to map all the human genes, was completed in 2003 and estimates that every human has between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. This knowledge allows physicians to develop safer, more effective and personalized treatments for many conditions.
VA is in a perfect spot to study genomics since it has such a large and varied patient population. It is also one the country’s largest consumers of clinical genetic testing.
Right now when genetic material is sent for testing, most often it’s sent to a lab outside of the VA. Test results are then faxed – 10 to 12 pages for one single gene test – to a clinician.
Other times these tests analyze anywhere from 100 to 300 genetic variations. This data isn’t currently standardized or stored within VA’s system and isn’t easily searchable either. If the veteran goes outside VA for care, they have to fill out forms to request hard copies of the info. The same is true when the tests are done outside the VA – and it takes time. If the veteran can’t remember when the tests were done or the results don’t arrive in time, the patient has to be retested.
The GCx system grabs the info, from either VA or non-VA providers, indexes it and makes it computable. The VA clinician just pulls up the info, no matter where it was done. The veteran has the info handy as well.
For example if the veteran has cancer, they’ve already had molecular genetic tests that identify tumor mutations. One size fits all treatments are a thing of the past. Now the veteran can walk into a cancer treatment facility and hand over their information. It becomes a patient-mediated data exchange where the patient is in charge and treatments can be ordered based on the genetic characteristics of their particular tumor.
Pharmacists can use the GDx database for prescribing decisions too. They order a drug metabolism profile prior to prescribing drugs for veteran. If someone is a fast metabolizer of a specific drug, then that prescription is customized accordingly. For patients with infectious diseases, genetic information pinpoints exactly what your treatment options should be. Now vets can take their info with them, making treatment uniform across the country.
Testing should be complete by the end of August. Both the user and provider versions of the app will be available for download at the VA App Store when the system goes live nationwide.