How to Talk to Your Patient About Pharmacogenomics

It is likely that physicians are encountering patients who have either had or are inquiring about pharmacogenomic (PGx) testing. For many providers, PGx may still be unfamiliar as it was not part of their standard training. As genetic testing becomes more common in precision medicine care, here are five simple steps to take when speaking to patients about PGx:

1.) Assess your patient’s general knowledge of genetics

Your genes are what you inherit from your parents. Just like everyone is unique on the outside (eye color, hair color, height etc.) we are also different on the inside and thus may also process medications differently.

2). Explain what pharmacogenomics is

Pharmacogenomics, also known as PGx, is a part of precision medicine. PGx refers to genetic testing to learn how your unique genes may predict how you process medications. The test may be done with a saliva or blood sample. PGx is not intended to diagnosis disease or your risk of certain hereditary conditions like cancer.

3). Explain the benefits

Your unique genes can give insight to clinicians into how you may process medications. You may metabolize (breakdown) medications too slowly or too quickly. This may result in an increased risk of side effects or not getting the full benefit of certain medications. PGx can help provide this information to your doctor or pharmacist to make the most informed prescribing decision for you.

4). Explain the limitations of PGx

PGx is not all you need to know. Other important clinical factors must also be considered, such as age, diet, and other medications etc. PGx is not impactful for all conditions or all medications. PGx is one piece of the puzzle.

5): Explain how you will use these results 

Your results may be used at the time of prescribing a new medication or when several medications have failed. Professional guidelines known as CPIC or information in the FDA label may guide in how you use these results. Results may also be stored and used in the future as your genes do not change.

Julie Ceno-England, MD is a board-certified family medicine physician with more than 15 years of clinical practice experience. Doctor England is currently the Senior Medical Director and VP of Medical Affairs at OneOme LLC, a med tech company located in Minneapolis, MN.