Select primary care offices launch no-cost screening program to identify actionable genetic health risks
Corewell Health has launched a new pilot program, in which
six primary care physician (PCP) offices now offer gene panel screening to
current patients at no cost. The screening aims to detect genes linked to heart
disease, cancer and other types of treatable medical conditions.
The process screens 167 genes and connects at-risk patients
with genetic counselors. Then, patients can create a customized prevention plan
with their primary care physician.
“We have 20,000-plus different genes in every cell,” Dr.
Julie Zenger Hain, director of Clinical Genetics at Corewell Health’s Beaumont
Hospital, Dearborn, said. “With this program, we’re looking at 167 actionable
genes, meaning genes we can do something about, leading to a better health
outcome for the patient.”
The purpose of the pilot is to use genetic testing to help
patients be more proactive with their health and to demonstrate the benefits of
preventative care programs. Currently, most unindicated-based testing is an
out-of-pocket cost for patients.
“People are seeking out genetic testing more frequently now,”
Dr. Zenger Hain said. “Through this pilot program, we’re creating a system that
offers more advanced testing to our patients in the primary care setting – one
that makes it easy for patients to act on the information with support from
their primary care physician, as well as to make more informed health decisions
and share the information with family members.”
Patients at the six participating primary care offices will
receive an invitation via email and to their myBeaumontChart to schedule an
appointment with a genetic counselor to talk about the program. The physicians
at these offices are also verbally discussing the genetic testing process with
patients during appointments.
Once a patient indicates their interest and consent,
counselors send a saliva kit to the patient’s home. The patient then follows
the instructions, takes the test and ships it back.
“It’s really simple and similar to an at-home COVID test,”
Dr. Zenger Hain said. “It takes about two-to-three weeks for the results to be
available. If a patient’s results are positive, the genetics team personally
communicates with the patient’s physician, provides full genetic counseling for
the patient and discusses who else might be at risk and could benefit from
genetic testing in their biological family.”
Another big part of this – preventative care and early
“It’s giving the physician additional knowledge and changing
what we can do for someone,” Dr. Zenger Hain said. “We can’t prevent everything,
but there are actions we can take to help stop or slow down disease.”
Williams, a primary care internal medicine physician at one of the
participating primary care offices, said, “Imagine you’re a physician treating
a 35-year-old patient complaining of chest pain and ‘gas’ after eating too much
pizza and beer the night before. You might jump to a conclusion that they
are suffering from heartburn or reflux. However, if you know the patient has a
gene for Marfan syndrome, a clotting disorder, a cholesterol problem or heart
disease, that information might help the physician make a diagnosis.”
Since June 2022, at participating
office locations in Troy, Westland, Warren and Dearborn, genetic counselors
have worked with PCPs to complete more than 500 genetic tests on individuals,
with the goal of testing one thousand by the end of June 2023.
“We have found individuals who have genetic diagnoses,” Dr.
Zenger Hain said. “We were expecting around 3-6% of the patients participating would
have an actionable result. We’re finding around 20% (of the 500 participants)
have some sort of actionable result and close to 50% overall either have an
actionable result or they’re carriers of a genetic disorder. Not only do the
results impact the participant with the potential to improve their long-term
health, but the results also have implications for biological family members.”
Dr. Zenger Hain added, “The program also offers genetic
counseling and testing for family members who are at risk within 90 days for no
cost. They just need a script from their PCP.”
Through testing, Dr. Williams said they have found genetic
conditions in elderly people, past the age of traditional screening, and that
information has been used to forewarn their kids and grandkids.
Dr. Williams added, “We have found conditions in parents, and subsequently in their
kids, and detected diseases decades before symptoms would appear. Sometimes
this might allow them to avoid complications of those conditions entirely.”
Program leaders’ future plans are to test 10,000 patients and
countless first-and-second-degree relatives over the next three years. The
focus: creating a healthier and more equitable future.
“We want to show by being proactive and addressing health
concerns early on, we can save money down the road and most importantly,
improve the health of the community one patient at a time,” Dr. Richard
Kennedy, program lead and director of Research at Corewell Health in southeast
Program leaders also aimed to test a diverse population with
the office locations that were selected. They translated the patient materials
into seven different languages, including Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin, as well
as provided interpretation services.
“The hope: that any positive results lead to preventative
measures for all,” Dr. Zenger Hain added. “That might involve something certain
patients don’t want to do – like exercising and losing weight. But knowing
they’re at risk might be what pushes that individual to say, ‘OK, I’m going to
do something about this now.’”
For those who aren’t current patients at one of the pilot
program’s locations and want to receive genetic testing, there is an option to
self-pay. Talk to your doctor about your family history and current health
status to see if you meet the criteria for coverage.
For more information about Corewell Health’s genetics program
or to schedule an appointment with a genetic counselor, visit beaumont.org/services/genetics.