How using genomic testing as part of routine care can advance precision medicine and health equity

Genomic testing has been used for years at academic medical centers as a one-off tool to provide an answer to specific cases. Now, there is broad understanding that its benefits can be multiplied across more patients and institutions if it is integrated within standard clinical workflows.

During Becker's 10th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, in a session sponsored by Helix — a population genomics and viral surveillance company — James Lu, MD, PhD, co-founder and CEO of Helix, moderated a discussion about how genomics can support health systems' precision health programs and objectives. Panelists were David Zaas, MD, chief clinical officer of the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston), and Anthony Aquilina, DO, executive vice president and chief physician officer at York, Penn.-based WellSpan Health.

Three key takeaways:

  1. Population genomics allows healthcare providers to deploy precision medicine at scale. Genomic data holds crucial information about patients’ health risks and outcomes, and using that information to guide treatment decisions lies at the heart of precision medicine. Population genomics programs enable deploying precision medicine at scale — beyond academic medical centers to the community level, where the starkest healthcare disparities are found.

    "Genomics and precision medicine are part of our strategy to help make an impact on community health. We believe that precision medicine will totally change how we identify risk, manage healthcare and impact health disparities," Dr. Zaas said.

  2. Operationalizing population genomics programs requires a physician engagement strategy. Besides securing leadership buy-in, internal sponsors of population genomics-powered precision medicine programs must convey the benefits of such programs to physicians. To some physicians the promise of access to point of care genetic insights is their driver, while to others, it may be the ability to answer clinical research questions quickly. "We need to get our physicians to understand what is the value proposition to them and to their patients — and we learned early on that you've got to make it practical to them," Dr. Zaas said.

    "What I really got from our physicians was an excitement about identifying the patients that we can take care of," Dr. Aquilina added recounting the initial reaction to implementing a precision medicine program at WellSpan. He offered a broader vision, too. "This is not going to be a conversation in a few years because every organization will have figured out that they have to have a [population genomics] program at some level."

  3. Population genomics programs can advance organizations' health equity mission. For example, if supported through outreach focusing on historically underrepresented groups, the programs can gather data about how certain diseases may differentially affect patients from minority populations. "Even in the most well-published studies, there's very little understanding of the impact of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities in genomics," Dr. Zaas said.

As health systems embrace the use of genomic screening more broadly, integrated solutions that enable point-of-care use of insights and power research will be central to increasing uptake and implementing programs enterprise-wide that can have community scale impact. 

To learn more about population genomics visit

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