Beyond Biometrics Looking Ahead to the Genetic Testing Era

A scan of news headlines from the past couple of months netted articles discussing genetic links to anxiety, glaucoma, weight gain, intelligence, athletics, cancer, and smoking. It’s not unimaginable that genetics could play a role in managing every aspect of our health. The trick will be figuring out how to counterbalance genetic predisposition with behavioral changes and clinical support.

Genetic testing companies fall into different buckets, based on whether they’re focused on the past, present, or future:

  • PAST:  To help you determine your ancestral origins, trace your lineage and find new genetic relatives, there are tests with a genealogical focus offered by Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and Ancestry DNA.
  • PRESENT: Genetic screening is being used to determine genetic variations and personalize recommendations and coaching based on your specific needs. As an example, Newtopia tests for genetic variations affecting body fat, eating behavior, and appetite, and adapts its program based on your results.
  • FUTURE:  Some companies focus on DNA screenings for the important moments in your life; for example, Counsyl and Color Genomics offer tests aimed at family planning, pregnancy, and cancer screening.

With the ability to test potential parents for inheritable conditions like cystic fibrosis, or risk for diseases like Parkinson’s, genetic testing may one day become the expected standard for care delivery. In the meantime, there are still some privacy concerns.  While the Genetic Information Nondiscrimindation Act (GINA) bars health insurance companies from denying coverage to those with risky gene mutations, the law doesn’t extend to life insurance companies, long-term care, or disability insurance.

Speed of testing, accuracy, financial cost, counseling support, and privacy are all factors that should be considered when evaluating services in this space. But the possibilities certainly seem to warrant discussion. Are you starting to think about these new types of services and how they might benefit your workforce?

Chris Chan
by Chris Chan

Principal, Innovation LABS, Mercer

Chris is a Principal and Innovation Imagineer with Mercer’s Health Innovation LABS, where he helps build creative solutions that complement employers’ health and welfare benefits programs. He focuses on developing strategies and products through the use of human-centered design, machine learning, consumer data insights and creating customer delight. Chris graduated from the University of California with a degree in neurobiology.

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