Mental health is a key point of concern for many businesses. In fact, one in two Canadians will be affected by mental health issues and 9% of Canadians will take antidepressants in their lifetime. Nevertheless, two-thirds of patients undergoing treatment for severe depression will not achieve remission after their first attempt at treatment.
Pharmacogenetics (also called pharmacogenomics) offers a personalized approach to treatment. Through a simple saliva test, a person’s DNA can be tested to predict how they might react to certain medications. Being able to predict how medications will metabolize can help identify those for whom medications may be ineffective, or who may be at an increased risk for unwanted side effects. The goal is to help the physician find the right medication and dosage more quickly.
Given that some experts consider pharmacogenetics to be an “inescapable reality” for health care professionals, and that it has been described as a notable trend in health insurance, here are five reasons to incorporate pharmacogenetics in a business.
1. Pharmacogenetics reduces the duration of disability
“A patient who has undergone pharmacogenetic testing for depression has double the chances of being in remission after two months of treatment.”
It’s important to note that mental illness disability claims are extremely expensive. Although they generally represent 30% of claims, they can incur 70% of costs. The average duration of disability is 65 days, and the average cost per employee can reach $18,000.
Finding the right treatment can be a long process of trial and error. Given that many weeks are needed to assess the effectiveness of an antidepressant, and a transition period is required for any change in medication, many patients will spend weeks, even months, trying out drug therapies that are incompatible with their DNA.
As the cost of pharmacogenetic testing is lower than that of a missed day of work, the return on investment (ROI) of pharmacogenetic initiatives can be extremely beneficial.
2. Pharmacogenetics reduces the cost of presenteeism and absenteeism
These estimates come from a Great-West Life survey of over 4,000 staff members and managers of Canadian businesses. However, executives admit that these estimates are subjective, and most businesses have no official measure to assess the true cost of the loss of employee productivity. But they do give an indication of the financial impact for employers of employee absenteeism and the reduced productivity of those who come to work.
In Quebec, more than 5% of Quebeckers are on antidepressants, and the trend is on the rise. In addition, 38% of those who take antidepressants report side effects, and among these, 26% are reported to be very or extremely unpleasant.
In a business with 1,000 employees, these statistics mean that among the 50 employees on antidepressants, 19 experience side effects, and 5 of these experience very unpleasant side effects. If unwanted side effects cause these five people to take leave for a year, this represents a cost of $50,000 for the business. The 14 others with side effects may experience reduced productivity at work, generating $98,000 in presenteeism costs per year. In total, inadequate medications could cost the business close to $150,000 annually.
Pharmacogenetics helps reduce these costs by guiding employees to treatments that are compatible with their DNA, and that are less likely to produce side effects that could affect their productivity or lead them to miss work.
3. Pharmacogenetics reduces the cost of group insurance
It is more and more obvious that the only way to slow the continuous increase in costs is to introduce innovative solutions. As such, some insurance providers now offer the option to limit group insurance cost increases for employers who agree to implement pharmacogenetic initiatives.
These projects, which target both employees who miss work and those who remain, could lower the costs associated with disability, presenteeism and absenteeism. At the same time, they help reduce insurance costs and generate a positive ROI.
Also, patients who are on medications that are incompatible with their DNA incur costs needlessly. By eliminating the use of ineffective medications, employers reduce their associated costs and help limit increases to their group insurance plan upon renewal.
4. A pharmacogenetics initiative can be deployed at little cost
As noted above, many insurance providers have launched disability pilot projects that also benefit employers. Other insurance providers, such as Desjardins, have announced the inclusion of pharmacogenetic testing in eligible expenses under its accident and illness insurance coverage for patients with medical prescriptions.
When employees of a business access discretionary funds as part of their group insurance plan (also called Health, Wellness or Flex accounts), some employers promote pharmacogenetics and encourage their employees to take these tests using their discretionary funds. This strategy ensures the deployment of pharmacogenetics initiatives at no cost to the employee or the employer.
Finally, many employers choose to directly fund pharmacogenetics initiatives through eligibility criteria, such a proof of diagnosis, or the use of medications with known side effects or a failed treatment. By limiting the number of employees targeted by the initiative, and given the low cost of pharmacogenetic testing, the investment quickly pays off.
5. Pharmacogenetics helps to strengthen the employer’s brand
Is any gift more personal than genetic testing? Businesses that offer such testing to employees position themselves as employers with their staff’s health at heart. Pharmacogenetic testing is also a lifelong tool, as individual DNA never changes. It’s an innovative way to take care of and retain employees.
Be among the growing number of businesses offering pharmacogenetics to their employees.
For more information on pharmacogenetics, watch the following video:
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