Jan 24 2018

Geisinger Health Taps Previous Tech Rollouts to Zoom Ahead with Precision Medicine

The health IT pioneer is building off of previous tech rollouts to launch new genome-focused projects.

For Geisinger Health, initiating technology into its patient care strategy started with patient portals, but has quickly blossomed into a full-fledged digital revolution. Based in the central Pennsylvania town of Danville, the health system laid the groundwork for recent and continued precision medicine research with its 2001 launch of patient portals.

"What we want to do with technology is enable patients to better manage a condition, have a better quality of life, and stay out of the emergency department or hospital," Chanin Wendling, Geisinger's associate vice president of informatics and director of Geisinger in Motion, a division within informatics charged specifically with boosting patient engagement through mobile and internet technology, told HealthTech last year.

Geisinger's infrastructure offers a solid foundation for IT leaders as they move forward with ambitious initiatives. Already, Geisinger has made waves by using data analytics technology to monitor and analyze sepsis patient outcomes and has been implementing telehealth for several years, touting an "eICU" alongside telepsychiatry and telederm programs.

Now, the healthcare system is pushing ahead by going all-in on precision medicine, which it believes will help offer more targeted and rapid care to patients.

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Geisinger Gives its Precision Medicine Program a Boost

Most recently, the Geisinger made moves to expand its telemedicine program.

The organization announced in November that it will launch a new Precision Health Innovation Lab to tap into genomics and data science. It has appointed genomics expert Huntington Willard to lead the effort.

"The addition of Hunt Willard to our already outstanding genomics and precision health team at Geisinger allows us to double down on our bet on this game-changing approach to anticipatory medicine — preventing early-onset cancer, cardiovascular events and other diseases, and keeping people out of hospitals. We are already seeing this benefit to our patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and are eager to extend this program nationally," said David T. Feinberg, Geisinger president and CEO, in the announcement.

The initiative will build on the health data in Geisinger's electronic health records as well as Geisinger's MyCode Community Health Initiative, a precision medicine project that "includes a systemwide biobank designed to store blood and other samples for research use," according to its website. It uses samples from 175,000 participants to sequence and analyze DNA, using the large body of data to sift out better ways to diagnose and treat disease.

"Geisinger we think is a couple years ahead in taking [population] health genomics and combining it with your EHR to predict what's going to happen to somebody before it happens," Feinberg told MedCityNews in January. "For our patients, we take a look at your whole exome sequence. We're able to actually say, 'You have this genetic mutation that's put you at extremely high risk for breast cancer, colon cancer or a bad response to anesthesia.' When we looked at our whole population, it turned out about 4 percent of our people have one of these genetic mutations."

In the coming year, the organization will turn up the heat on precision medicine through its new innovation lab by tapping into not only DNA, but midstream and upstream social determinants of health, such as exercise habits or even neighborhood conditions — one of the best predictors of lifespan for city dwellers in the U.S.

"We have all this environmental information, genetic information and a great IT system. We want to be able to say to our doctors and patients, 'We're going to do anticipatory medicine. You'll know your risk before anything happens. We're going to know you better than Amazon knows you. We're going to be your trusted guide in life,'" Feinberg said.

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