Geisinger looks to expand precision health program nationally

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Known as an innovator in the use of electronic health records and care delivery models, Geisinger is looking to expand its successful precision health program nationally by leveraging its model of integrating genomics and data science into healthcare.

The integrated health services organization, based in Danville, Penn., has launched the Geisinger National Precision Health Initiative and appointed Huntington Willard, an expert in human genetics and genomics at the University of Chicago, to be director of the effort, which is setting up operations in the Washington, DC, area.

“The addition of Hunt Willard to our already outstanding genomics and precision health team at Geisinger allows us to double down on our bet on this game-changing approach to anticipatory medicine—preventing early-onset cancer, cardiovascular events and other diseases, and keeping people out of hospitals,” said David Feinberg, MD, Geisinger’s president and CEO. “We are already seeing this benefit to our patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and are eager to extend this program nationally.”

As part of the initiative, Willard will launch a new Precision Health Innovation Lab designed to tap into discoveries and advances in genomics and data science throughout the Geisinger organization. In particular, the program will leverage Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative—its major biobank and DNA sequencing study—as well as electronic health data integration.

Also See: How precision medicine will leverage data, analytics and AI

Launched in 2007, the MyCode Community Health Initiative is a precision medicine project that has enabled Geisinger patients to detect cancer earlier than they might otherwise and to identify heart disease before any clinical symptoms were present.

More than 170,000 patients have signed up to participate in the MyCode Community Health Initiative, which combines clinical data from EHRs with genetics information, according to David Ledbetter, Geisinger’s executive vice president and chief scientific officer.

“We started four years ago, in a partnership with Regeneron Genetics Center in New York, to do what’s called the whole exome sequencing in order to get large-scale genetics information, and now that is up to 92,000 Geisinger patient participants,” says Ledbetter.

He notes that 3 percent to 4 percent of adult patients in the Geisinger healthcare system have a genomic variant mutation that “puts them at very high risk of early onset breast or colon cancer or puts them at very high risk of a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.”

Armed with this information, Ledbetter says clinical reports with these results are put into the EHR and are provided to patients and their primary care physicians, who offer genetic counseling about the medical implications.

“We’re probably the earliest health system anywhere in the world to do this kind of large-scale genetic analysis—but, different from other research projects, we actually report clinically relevant and actionable information to our patients,” adds Ledbetter.

Given the success of its MyCode Community Health Initiative, he says a lot of healthcare systems have contacted Geisinger asking for assistance in implementing precision medicine at their respective facilities. According to Ledbetter, Geisinger’s new National Precision Health Initiative is a response to meet that need around the country.

Provider organizations are looking for “turnkey” precision health services, he contends. “We still don’t have a detailed business plan how we’re going to do that,” acknowledges Ledbetter. “But, we are in discussion with a couple of potential health system partners and working with them.”

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