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Pharmacogenetic testing:

What is it and how can it improve your health?

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on December 11, 2023

Brown eyes or blue? Tall or short? Full head of hair or bald? You can thank (or blame) your parents for your unique physical features. Our bodies are made up of thousands of genes we inherited from our mothers and fathers that together form our DNA. These genes determine the characteristics that are specific to us, from our eye colour to our blood type.

Genes are also responsible for how we metabolize or process medications. That means we all respond differently to drugs due to variations in our DNA. This is the reason some drugs cause mild to severe side effects, like nausea, weight gain, even abnormal heart rhythms or no adverse reactions at all.

Now imagine a test that could pinpoint the drugs that are best for our bodies from a small sample of our saliva.

It could be life-changing, right?

Pharmacogenetics makes it possible.

What is pharmacogenetic testing?

A lab test of your saliva from a single cheek swab can determine how your genetic makeup responds to or metabolizes certain medications.

The results can help our doctors prescribe drugs that are the most effective and safest for us, with the least likelihood of negative side effects, and without the frustration of trial-and-error prescribing that may prolong your recovery.

Who benefits from testing?

By taking the right medications at the right doses based on our DNA, we can feel better, faster, confident in our treatment, saving time, worry and costs for all.

It is important to note that pharmacogenetic testing looks at gene markers to determine our tolerance to certain medications. There are other factors, beyond genes, which can also affect our response to drugs such as age, weight and diet.

Pharmacogenetic testing is not to be confused with “recreational genetics” that can help us trace our ancestral roots – think AncestryDNA — or genetic testing that reads our DNA to determine our potential risk for disease.

Isn’t genetic testing prohibited?

Pharmacogenetic testing analyzes only the specific genes involved in drug metabolism to determine the risk of toxicity and side effects. They do not assess our inherited predisposition to certain diseases, e.g. heart disease, cancer, which by law, under Bill S-201, prohibits discrimination based on genetic characteristics. Nor does it impact our insurance.

Does Medavie Blue Cross offer testing?

We offer pharmacogenetic testing option. However, we are only one of a few insurers that offers pharmacogenetic testing at preferred pricing through our Personalized Medicine option on our Connected Care digital health plan.

Depending on your benefit plan, these services can be covered through your Extended Health plan with a prescription and/ or a Health Spending or Personal Wellness Account.

Who receives testing results?

Your participation in pharmacogenetic testing is voluntary and confidential.

Once the testing results are processed, they are forwarded to you directly. It’s up to you if you want to share them with your doctor to use in prescribing your medication.

How can I learn more?

If you are a member of a Medavie Blue Cross-insured plan, review your coverage through the Member Services Site or Blue Cross Mobile app to see if Pharmacogenetic Testing is included in your plan.

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