Scientists Clear Hurdle

Salt Lake City, UT (9/30/2009) -  First-Ever Electronic Exchange of Genetic Data Paves Way for Medicine of the Future

Intermountain Healthcare and a genetics laboratory in Boston have made a breakthrough that may help lead to the medical record of the future and treatment plans that are tailor made for each individual — right down to their DNA.

For the first time ever, comprehensive genetic test results have been transmitted electronically from one health system to another and incorporated into an individual patient’s electronic medical record. The results were sent from Partners HealthCare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine in Boston to Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, which maintains a unique repository of electronic records for thousands of Utah patients.

“This data transfer is a reason to celebrate,” says Marc S. Williams, M.D., director of the Intermountain Genetics Institute at LDS Hospital. “Having genetic data in a patient’s electronic medical record will become an incredibly powerful tool in diagnosing medical problems and providing effective care.”

In fact, says Sandy Aronson, Executive Director of Information Technology at Partners HealthCare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine, “this effort will likely serve as a model for the rest of the nation. It’s a major advance in the area of electronic medicine.”

As new discoveries are made in the field of genetic research, healthcare systems will be able to scan these information-rich electronic records, looking for signs of increased disease risk, the best possible screening approaches, and drugs that have the greatest chance of success based on the unique genetic makeup of each individual and their illness.

In the past, complete genetic records were not provided to patients or physicians simply because they contain too much data to put on paper — it would fill a book. Even if they had the data, many physicians would not be able to use the complicated information effectively.

“Until now, our ability to make full use of genetic testing has been limited to patients seen at our own labs,” says Aronson. “This will enable other institutions to make personalized medicine accessible to as many patients as possible, regardless of who performed their tests or where their doctor is located. And they’ll be able to do it in a cost-effective way.”

Pioneering this kind of data transfer is only the first step, says Stan Huff, MD, a physician and chief medical informatics officer for Intermountain Healthcare, whose team worked with Partners HealthCare for 18 months to build the data hub.

“We’ll take this information and work with genetics specialists to write programs and create protocols that will assist doctors,” says Huff. “A physician will not need to be an expert in family medicine and genetics to effectively use this information for the benefit of his or her patients — our programs will help.”

In this first case, a Utah man was tested for an inherited heart condition by the Partners Center for Personalized Genetics Medicine, which is part of Partners HealthCare, one of the nation’s largest and most respected health systems. The genetic test showed that he was not at risk for the condition, but it also uncovered a trove of related genetic data that can now be stored and analyzed as the field of genetic medicine grows and progresses.

The exchange was routed through a new system called VariantWireSM , which serves as a central hub to enable the transfer of genetic test results from testing laboratories to healthcare providers. An institute that connects to VariantWireSM will be able to communicate with all other connected institution through a single secure interface.

“We’ve now added one more crucial element that will enable electronic health records to help doctors provide precise and personalized care to their patients by utilizing the rich information from the genome,” says Williams.

“The power of this kind of medicine will only grow as we learn more about our genes,” says Aronson. “Having this information at our fingertips will allow us to make the most of those advances.”

President Obama and others have championed Intermountain as a national model for providing high-quality medical care at a low cost. The electronic medical record is a centerpiece of efforts to improve healthcare in the United States, and Intermountain is one of the few hospital systems that already have an advanced electronic patient record in place.

“The power of this kind of medicine will only grow as we learn more about our genes.”