HEALTH: Alliance Is Formed With Large Medical Records Firm
By MEGHANA KESHAVAN
San Diego’s Pathway Genomics has been ramping up its presence in the field of personalized genomics, as evidenced by its most recent collaboration with Practice Fusion Inc., a San Francisco-based electronic health record developer.
“The field of genetics is rapidly growing, but the question is — how can we get all this information to physicians as quickly as possible?,” said Michael Nova , Pathway Genomics’ chief medical officer. “Through electronic interfaces. Through electronic health records.”
Inputting genomic data into electronic health records is a goal for many electronic medical record providers, as personalized medicine advances allowing physicians to tailor-fit drugs based on a patient’s genes. By examining DNA from a person’s saliva, or in some cases blood, Pathway Genomics screens specific genes and provides information that relates to genetic disease, traits that impact heart health, possible drug response, nutrition and exercise response, as well as common health conditions.
“Our mission, and medical responsibility to the community, is to provide people with actionable and accurate genetic information they can use to maintain health and wellness,” Nova said. “Integrating our lab services into Practice Fusion’s EMR platform is a critical step in making this actionable genetic information more accessible to the physician, and ultimately, the patient.”
Founded in 2005, Martin said Practice Fusion provides a free, Web-based electronic health record application to physicians. Physician practices, often burdened with the mounting expenses of integrating costlier electronic health records into their day-to-day routine, can input their patients’ most vital information and easily track patients’ health trajectory.
Pathway Is the First
Practice Fusion boasts a network of about 150,000 medical professionals and about 60 million patients on the platform, and Pathway is the first genomic testing company to be listed among Practice Fusion’s more than 200 laboratory services vendors. “Reporting on a person’s genetic information is a critical ingredient in delivering highly personalized medical care to physicians and their patients,” said Todd Martin, Practice Fusion’s senior vice president of business development.
One avenue that Pathway will no longer pursue is direct-to-consumer testing, said Todd Johnson, Pathway Genomics’ chief commercial officer. The company previously dabbled in the wider personalized genomics market, announcing in 2010 a saliva collection kit that could be sold at Walgreens. A buyer could potentially purchase a test to determine his or her predisposition to genetic diseases or drug reactions. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wasn’t prepared to allow a widely commercialized, over-the-counter genetics test, so Pathway Genomics rerouted to focus on research and physician-centric approaches.
Working With Blue Shield
This direction shift has proven effective: Earlier this year, Pathway Genomics announced it joined Blue Shield of California’s Preferred Provider Network, which consists of an HMO network of more than 34,000 physicians and 290 hospitals, and a PPO network that includes more than 60,000 physicians and 351 hospitals.
It services about 3.3 million patients, and Pathway Genomics will be able to provide genetic testing to those in the network who need it.
Additionally, Pathway Genomics is currently involved in a large clinical trial. Launched last summer, researchers at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System began a clinical trial aimed at improving the health of obese veterans and focusing on the genetic associations of weight-loss and weight-regain.
Genomic and health record integration can be critical for medical research, said Joshua Denny, a biomedical informatics professor at Vanderbilt University who authored a paper about data-mining electronic health records.
Denny is a key participant in the government’s Electronic Medical Records and Genomics (eMERGE) Network, along with several research institutions around the country. The goal of eMERGE, which was formed in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health, is to study ways to integrate genomics with patient record data to create a more efficient and effective way to conduct research.
Researchers and physicians alike can use genomics information in health records to cut research costs by allowing several studies to be conducted on one individual, Denny said. He said that EHRs offer “a rich, real-world dataset that requires little additional funding to obtain.”
“The EHR model for genetic research offers several key advantages,” he said. “A primary advantage is cost.”