Reduce disability and drug costs: get your employees the right medication faster

How pharmacogenomics is changing the drug treatment landscape

Picture this situation in your workplace. A key employee has taken disability leave due to severe depression. Along with therapy, the employee is prescribed a common anti-depressant. After several weeks, and dose adjustments, there is little improvement.

The doctor changes medications, weans the employee off the old one and introduces a new prescription. A few months go by, and still no improvement. The doctor again makes a medication change. This time there is finally a dramatic positive change after just six weeks, and the employee returns to work soon after.

While the story ends well, it took nearly a year to find an effective medication. Had the employee been introduced to the third medication from the start, they would have been spared months of suffering – and you would have had a valuable and productive employee back at work months sooner. The key question is a simple one: how can you help employees find an effective medication right from the start?

Enter pharmacogenomics – a game-changing approach to drug treatment.

Pharmacogenomics explained

Pharmacogenomics is a type of genetic test that helps doctors better understand how a specific patient responds to a given medication. It lets a doctor prescribe medications more precisely based on an individual’s DNA. It can be used to help guide treatment decisions across a range of health conditions, such as psychiatry, cardiovascular, oncology, and infectious diseases.

While different responses to drugs are affected by differences in height, weight, gender, age, and even diet, from 20% to 95% of the variation in how a person responds to medication can be directly linked to genetic differences – and specifically the differences in how they metabolize a given drug.

A rapid metabolizer may process a medication too quickly and not have the expected therapeutic response. A poor metabolizer may process a medication too slowly, resulting in side effects. Take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs for example. Individuals who are a poor metabolizer of statins process the drug too slowly, exposing them to higher concentrations of the drug and resulting in muscle pain.

The benefits to the employer

The use of pharmacogenomics as part of a drug benefit program can provide many potential benefits – for you and your employees.

  • Reduce absence – for employees still at work but needing treatment for a health condition, pharmacogenomics can help them identify the right treatment faster, and with a lower risk of side effects that could cause absence.
  • Reduce disability leave duration – for employees on disability leave, the treatment for many health conditions can be a trial and error process. Pharmacogenomics can reduce or eliminate this process by identifying the right medication upfront – and dramatically reducing recovery time in many cases.
  • Reduce drug costs: Reducing the number of “trial and error” drugs an employee is prescribed can reduce the overall drug spend, even if the chosen medication is a more expensive option.
  • Improve adherence to a treatment program. Studies have shown that pharmacogenomic testing may give patients more confidence that a medication is going to work for them, thus improving adherence. Reduced anxiety about potential side effects of a medication may also be a factor that improves medication adherence.[1]
  • Improve outcomes and the experience for employees. Having drugs prescribed that are ineffective or cause an adverse reaction can be extremely taxing on an individual’s health. Pharmacogenomics can improve both health outcomes and the treatment process for employees.

Many research studies have shown the effectiveness of pharmacogenomics tests. In a recent study of employees who were currently on medications, pharmacogenomics testing found that 44 per cent were incompatible with the medications they were currently prescribed. In addition, 60% of employees who were on disability came back to work after they changed their medications because their health improved faster than it would have on the originally prescribed medication.[2]

Learn more

Medcan has one of the most robust pharmacogenomic tests in Canada, covering more than 200 medications for the most common health conditions related to absenteeism in the work place – from mental health issues to pain management concerns. The test will also inform on drug to drug interactions, which is beneficial to employees that are on multiple medications. Our pharmacogenomics program includes consultation with Medcan Genetic Counsellors, who work collaboratively with pharmacists to help interpret the results and provide counsel to physicians.

To learn more about how a pharmacogenomics program can help your organization, book a consultation with a corporate solutions advisor today.

[1] Haga & LaPointe, 2013

[2]Personalized Prescribing, 2016

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