For Healthcare Innovation’s Telehealth & Virtual Care Virtual Day, Jill Davies, Genome Medical’s CEO, sat down with Mark Hagland, editor-in-chief, for a Q&A session to discuss trends in virtual genetic services and tech solutions that enable health systems to reach more patients, improve the patient experience and make genetic insights actionable for better care across clinical service lines.
What role does telehealth genetic services play in a health system setting?
To many, genetics is simply a swab or blood draw to perform the test and sequencing. The first genome was sequenced in about 13 years. It now can be done in a matter of minutes. There has been great progress in testing, but now you have terabytes of data that need to be analyzed and put into clinical context for a specific individual.
Genetic professionals solve that last mile of the equation to help the patients navigate their genetics journey. We analyze and interpret the genetic information and work with the patient and/or their care team to make it meaningful and actionable. Genetics can be applied to virtually all areas of medicine to support personalized patient care. Its value and utility has expanded over the years from pediatrics and reproductive specialties to cardiology, neurology and oncology, which is the largest growth area of genetics in a clinical setting.
How can hospitals use telehealth to improve access to genetics care?
Historically most genetic services were offered in-person at academic medical centers making access difficult. Telehealth genetic services (telegenetics) make it possible to deliver this care to patients regardless of location. This really opens access to anyone that needs it, without an often months-long wait time.
Telegenetics helps expand access to genetics professionals and keep patients close to home, in their local health system. Telehealth services are an extension of the care patients are receiving from their local provider and helps the provider deliver high-quality care while unlocking growth as a result of the downstream services they can offer.
How can telehealth address workforce shortage issues? Are there learnings in genetics that could be applies to telehealth delivery more broadly?
We hear a lot right now about workforce shortages. This is an issue that isn’t new to genetics. We’ve been working to solve for workforce shortages for several years. As the opportunities for more patients to access genetics have proliferated, we haven’t been able to match pace with the number of genetics professionals trained to support those patients and their care team.
Beyond telehealth delivery, genetics services companies like Genome Medical have developed technology platforms and tools that help health systems increase efficiency and scale services without increasing their staffing. Additionally, we have been advancing the development of the Genetic Counseling Assistant role that supports administrative components and enables genetic counselors to practice at the “top of their scope” to further scale delivery and efficiency. What we’ve learned in genetics can be used to continue to evolve models of care and innovate to address workforce shortages across other areas of healthcare delivery.
How are genetics technology solutions supporting health systems with downstream services opportunities?
As hospitals deal with cost pressures, programs like genetics provide opportunities to drive new revenue streams. For example in oncology, many individuals would benefit from having a genetic test for cancer, to identify or refine their risk. We’ve created a solution that takes the burden off of a health system and identifies those individuals, and brings them into the health system where they can receive services and care. For those at high-risk, there are follow-on services such as imaging or other services that drive revenue back into the hospital. Ultimately it comes down to improving patient care. If we can identify patients at high-risk, and get them early screening and detection, we can intervene before cancer develops.
How will the overall genetic services landscape evolve in the future?
Twenty years ago I couldn’t have predicted where we are today. There has been exponential growth and new areas of practice for genetics. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the impact of genetics in life sciences. For patients with rare diseases, we use it to help them identify the disease and then support them in living with it. Today, in the pediatric space, we are seeing life changing innovations. Biopharma companies are developing new therapies that target and correct the genetic variants that cause rare diseases. I think we’ll see continued evolution from applying genetics simply for care management to also therapeutic innovations that stop or alter disease progression.
As we continue to navigate the challenges in healthcare: workforce challenges, financial constraints, new and disparate solutions, I think partnership is the way forward. It’s the only way we are going to be able to provide the quality of care that patients need. We are excited to continue on that journey, supporting healthcare organizations to improve access to actionable genetic care that improves lives.
About the Author: Jill Davies, MS, CCGC
Jill Davies is a leader in the field of genomic healthcare. A board-certified genetic counselor for over 20 years, she has dedicated her career to reinventing access to genomic medicine for health systems, providers, payers and patients. Jill’s passion for improving access to genomic medicine led her to found GeneMatters in 2016, a telehealth genetic counseling company. Jill led GeneMatters as its CEO until it merged with Genome Medical in 2021 and became Chief Executive Officer of Genome Medical in mid-2022.
To see the print edition of this interview, click here.