Summary:

A new study suggests that companies working to match medical care with a patient’s genetic makeup have some work cut out for them in educating consumers.

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Plenty of genetic testing and analysis startups want to use personalized medicine to revolutionize healthcare — but there’s one thing they may have to do first: help consumers understand what that actually means.

According to a report released this week from research firm GfK, just 27 percent of U.S. consumers said they’d heard of the term “personalized medicine,” and just 4 percent could accurately describe it as medical care that matched a person’s genetic makeup.

Once respondents were told what it meant, the study, which included more than 600 people in the general population over the age of 30, found that 55 percent of people with work-sponsored health plans said they were interested in having a genetic test. Not surprisingly, that figure rose to 80 percent among those who have or have had cancer and, in general, interest increased among those who have more medical conditions.

With the approach of the more-affordable so-called “$1,000 genome,” the phrase “personalized medicine” has become more ubiquitous. Several companies, from genetic testing firms 23andme and Gene by Gene to genomic data processing and analysis startups Bina Technologies and Spiral Genetics, are working on technology to help doctors provide care that’s most appropriate for a person’s genetic characteristics.

That could mean using genetic assessments to determine whether a patient is a slow processor of caffeine or whether they’re at a higher risk for diabetes and other inherited conditions and then recommending the most fitting healthcare regime, or discovering which drugs are most incompatible with a person’s genetic predispositions.

It’s true that patients don’t need to know the term “personalized medicine” to benefit from genetic testing – and consumer-facing companies like 23andme tend to market with plainer language that more generally  explains how “DNA tests [are] improving lives.” But the study still points out that these companies have a bit of work cut out for them when it comes to consumer education.

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