‘Tuning prescriptions’ with DNA testing

Published on: August 20, 2014


DNA-mappingImagine an almost surefire test to make sure the prescriptions your doctor is prescribing are working for you rather than harming you. Genetic testing for medications has advanced to the point that Medicare is insuring the patient for the procedure 100 percent now.

“How many times has your physician said ‘Let’s try this medication and see if it will help’ rather than saying ‘This medication will do the trick’”? Debbie Caneen, Sun Towers Retirement Community director of admissions,  asked. “With new DNA testing available to provide a physician with the correct guidance, guessing is a thing of the past,” she said. “The results of these tests go directly to the patient and their doctor, which will take the guesswork out of prescribing medications.”

Before DNA testing, labs used urine tests to monitor patients’ ability to handle their medications, to make sure there would not be an adverse reaction to prescriptions or to avoid bad drug interactions.

According to Kathryn Phillips, director for the San Francisco Center for Translational and Policy Research on Personalized Medicine, the science of drug prescribing is still very rudimentary, but DNA testing is definitely a step forward.

“We look at somebody’s weight and maybe their gender,” she said. “Certainly I think in the future we’ll see that people get genotyped, and they’ll have this whole list of drugs that they should avoid.”

Are you wondering whether the medication you are taking is working for you? Or do you sometimes worry that your prescribed medication is causing side effects? Because the Food and Drug Administration has now required that certain medications should add genetic information in their prescription labeling, doctors sometimes want their patients to have DNA testing before they prescribe a medication for them.

One reason why you might want to get a DNA test is that a patient can determine from the test how they are metabolizing their medication. Another reason to genetic test is that it is a way to prevent having a reaction to multiple drugs interacting.

“The purpose of this test is to eliminate adverse drug reactions,” said Steve Berglund, Coeus Medical Solutions director of patient services.  “Ten percent of all hospital visits for Medicare patients is due to ADRs, and they are almost entirely preventable. The test and follow-up is entirely covered by Medicare. A copy of the report will be given to the patient as well as the patient’s primary-care physician. A copy can also be emailed to a family member. We will have technicians on site. The test is covered by most insurances including commercial, Medicare and Medicaid.”

According to Berglund, this test can tell you exactly what medications you can take and more importantly what medications you cannot take. It will give your physician a blueprint of what medicines he can safely prescribe for you. This is not based on your height, weight, race or gender but your actual body and what medications you can process, he said. The goal of this program is to eliminate adverse drug reactions, which is why Medicare and commercial insurance cover this test 100 percent. One in 10 visits to the emergency room by a Medicare patient is due to the patient taking medication exactly as it was prescribed, but it had a negative reaction.

“The process is very simple, Berglund explained. “We will do a quick cheek swab and send it off to the lab. In a couple of weeks, our nurse practitioner will come back to meet with you individually to go over the report. We will give you a hardcopy report, we can email an electronic copy to you or a family member, and we will deliver a hardcopy report to your primary-care physician. There is absolutely no out-of-pocket cost to the patient.”

As an example, a mutation of the HLA gene has been found to greatly increase the risk of getting a potentially deadly skin reaction called Stevens Johnson syndrome in patients taking carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant drug. In 2007, the FDA issued an alert that Asians should get a DNA test before taking carbamazepine because they had a gene variant marking them for a reaction.

HLA is short for “human leukocyte antigen,” which is a group of protein molecules located on bone marrow cells that can provide an immune response.

You can register for the Ice Cream Social at Sun Towers Retirement Community and receive DNA testing. It will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 25. It is suggested you bring your Medicare ID card or insurance card. You must reserve a place for the DNA testing. RSVP no later than Aug 22 to 813-634-3347.