Insurers increasingly recognize the importance of individualized therapy as the use of personalized medicine builds momentum in clinical practice. We know people can respond to medications differently: more than 90% of us have genetic variations affecting drug response and up to 50% of us experience adverse reactions due to genetic variations.

Clinical findings show pharmacogenetic testing offers better health outcomes for plan members. It helps the healthcare practitioner to select medications that will likely be the most effective for that individual, based on their genetic makeup, which in turn supports quicker recoveries and better health outcomes.

Pharmacogenetic testing is also proving to be more cost effective than the traditional “trial and error” method of prescribing, particularly for chronic, difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression and chronic pain. Over the past few years the insurance industry has conducted numerous pilot initiatives that have demonstrated the positive return on investment of pharmacogenetic testing. The application of pharmacogenetics offers plan sponsors a way to help reduce costs related to absenteeism, disability and poor health caused by adverse reactions to certain medications.

Other important factors that support the use of pharmacogenetic testing include:

  • Changing perceptions: Previous concerns that pharmacogenetic testing could reduce access to insurance have lessened. Canadians are more aware of how their privacy is protected. Equally important, they’re more interested in the benefits of quicker access to effective treatment.
  • Increasing plan sponsor interest: More plan sponsors express significant interest in its potential to help manage drug costs by assisting with appropriate drug selection as well as accurate dosing. The insurance industry is investing in research to see how this emerging technology can best be harnessed for our customers’ group benefit plans.
  • Expanding applications: Pharmacogenetic testing originated in specialized settings to help treat cancer patients. As the technology evolves so too does its applications. In recent years pharmacogenetic testing shows promising results for a number of other conditions, with growing ease of use by healthcare practitioners.

Pharmacogenetic testing can offer better health outcomes and it’s emerging as an important tool in drug plan management. In essence, pharmacogenetic testing, which is one aspect of personalized medicine, has the potential to:

  • Improve the efficacy of medication, by enabling doctors to identify which medications will be most effective for a particular patient;
  • Improve health outcomes by reducing the toxicity or side effects that result from the traditional “trial and error” approach of prescribing;
  • Reduce sick time and the duration of disability leaves.

This article is brought to you by Canada Life, sponsor of The Benefits Alliance Group Take 5 for Health Benefits newsletter and website.


This article is part of The Benefits Alliance Take 5 for Health Benefits. Take 5 is a quarterly initiative that provides a deeper look a the employee benefits space by providing examples, research and case studies on what’s working for employers in Canada.